This is the fourth time in as many years that Romeo and Juliet has been part of the Shakespeare offerings in the outdoor venues of Oxford. This time Creation Theatre have returned to the oft-performed tragic romance some 15 years after their first production of the piece. When you are tackling one of the most frequently produced plays in the English Language, it is important that you undertake the project with a fresh approach. Here the setting is urban-industrial with distressed costumes to match but I am not sure that is quite enough to make it stand out from the crowd.
It is very clear that the production had invested heavily in the work of a Movement Director. This is a growing fad for many companies. Here it added very little and often acted as a distraction from the acting. The same could be said for the cutting together of various scenes and speeches. I can see what they were driving at but it felt like a device rather than something that was integral to the story-telling of the production.
When you are working with a cast of only nine actors and requiring lots of doubling, it is easy for the director to ask for all the characterisations to be as large as possible (particularly in a vast outdoor space) in order to help the audience differentiate. Some of the actors managed this better than others. Some, unfortunately, took this as permission to over-act.
It is good to see a local company producing popular theatre without recourse to any outside funding - and I feel that I ought to support their enterprise and perseverance. However, the quality of the work needs to match the expectations of the audience. For me, it does fall short. It is competent but not special, not innovative, not individual.
There are some positives to take from the production: firstly the clarity of the speaking was excellent. All too often outdoor performances are marred by the inaudibility of some of the actors - here, it was not a problem. They also made good use of the bawdy elements of the play and brought out much needed humour throughout the first half of the piece. The lighting design (by Ashley Bale) was excellent throughout - a rare achievement again for an outdoor production.
Perhaps I have seen too many summer R&Js and it is now a play suffering the same fatigue that afflicts A Midsummer Night's Dream. This production did disappoint me. I was hoping for something that might illuminate the play in a new way for me. It doesn't. It almost felt as if they were trying too hard - perhaps a more bare-bones, stripped back production with the same cast would have been more successful. A shame - but perhaps other, less jaded, audience members with react with more enthusiasm.