This Playfull Theatre Company production of Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet, performed at Bristol Cathedral, set in motion (quite literally) a truly enjoyable evening. The company, a group of Bristol University students, promised that “the audience should be prepared to be immersed in the magical experiences of lyrical language, authentic period costume, vibrant acting and haughty music, all embraced by a poignant medieval atmosphere”. Through creating the production as a promenade experience, whereby the audience followed the characters around the cathedral, its crypt and cloisters, this was largely achieved.
Indeed, by my count, ten different locations within the cathedral were used, sometimes providing fantastically intimate moments such as those set in the choir, where the audience could feel totally immersed in the emotion, being so close to the actors. Perhaps less successful were those scenes set in the more cavernous nave, where acoustics sometimes resulted in some of the lines being lost.
Conversely, though, these acoustics assisted the music, which provided suitable accompaniment during or between scenes and was beautifully performed by choristers or musicians. Particularly moving was the choral piece accompanying Romeo’s suicide scene, which echoed around the church as the audience sat around the candlelit altar, as Romeo recited his final lines.
The young student cast were certainly full of exuberance, and therefore brought out all the joy and fun of Shakespeare’s tragically romantic play. They were superbly led by Luke Thompson as Romeo, who was charming and totally believable as the romantic hero. His diction and presentation of his dialogue was tremendous, and it was easy to get caught up in his love for Juliet during the notorious balcony scene, which was beautifully presented, with the audience standing with Romeo looking up at Juliet. Tanya Lattul’s Juliet was also commendable, both touching and vulnerable.
Special praise should also be given to Alex Woolf, whose skilful portrayal of Friar Lawrence belied his age. He provided an admirable mixture of authority and anguish, with a wonderfully clear delivery of his lines.
All-in-all, the small audience (although perfectly large enough for the smaller areas used in the cathedral) obviously thoroughly enjoyed the production and were clearly successfully “immersed in the magical experience” in the cathedral, which did indeed provide a wonderfully “poignant medieval atmosphere”.