Having seen Creation Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing earlier this season, I was interested to return to their outdoor venue and sample Abigail Anderson’s Romeo and Juliet.
This time, the weather was less clement, but this was offset by our decision to go early and have one of the fresh crepes served in the grounds. Café M seems a semi-permanent feature at Creation Theatre’s productions in Oxford, and it’s well worth the visit.
For Romeo and Juliet, the stage remains set with a balcony under the great oak, but the red structures of the earlier production are replaced by more muted tones and a more centralised structure. Enough to give us variety but still leaving a chance to see the parkland behind being well used by the actors.
The production begins with a street fight that could probably do with some more work before it becomes credible, but then moves into a smooth, well-paced and confidently executed first half. The cast of eight, doubling into the smaller roles, deliver the lines with the clarity and comprehension I have come to expect of Creation and a wit that almost makes us forget the tragedy about to unfold. Later fights are far more confidently played and hence feel more like part of the action rather than an add-on.
Jamie Harding gives us a very genuine Romeo, lovesick, passionate and eloquent, whilst Elaine Symons, though clearly not Juliet’s actual age, presents someone we can believe is a young girl.
The supporting cast contains no weak points, but I must say that Matthew Hendrickson puts over the earthy wisdom (or is that Norman Wisdom?) of the nurse with great conviction, almost pantomime when reaching for comedy and yet played perfectly straight when the drama requires it.
The middle of the second half of the play is, in my opinion, harder to make as gripping, but Anderson’s production tries manfully (despite, at the press performance, an idiot audience member who decided to get their flash camera out). Music and choreography are both important, too, and help to strengthen this show, though the track underplaying Juliet’s death does sound a little “Casualty”.
- Robert Iles