Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Charlotte Conquest
Reviewer: Sophie Huggins
Set within the four echoed, omniscient walls of Surrey’s largest Georgian church called the Holy Trinity, The Guildford Shakespeare Company play out Shakespeare’s most infamous and tragic love story: Romeo and Juliet.
Featuring a cast of nine, this tenacious ensemble clearly and with commitment tell a story of rivalry; a bitter ongoing feud between two families – The Montagues and The Capulets. When young Montague Romeo (Ricky Oakley) spots the fair maiden Juliet (Lucy Pearson), daughter of the Capulets, at a masked ball, they instantly and deeply fall in helpless love and have to fight to be together and it is this unwavering love that ultimately results in their tragedy.
Oakley and Pearson are entirely believable in their love and provide a sweet, innocent and naive take on the notorious couple. A sense of maturity is perhaps needed upon their first encounter to then make their devotion to each other credible later on as their love can often feel ungrounded, but the pair certainly commit to their roles, especially during the climactic and epic second half. There are some sparky performances from the rest of the cast: Jack Whitam as Mercutio fills every inch of the text with character, life and intention and Rikki Lawton as Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) and Paris, the man Juliet’s parents wish for her to marry, is a burst of fresh energy with excellent physicality and a strong presence. The Nurse too, played by Harriet Thorpe, is extremely lovable; a credit to Thorpe’s brilliant comedic timing and prioritization of truth.
The lighting, designed by Peter Harrison, is stunning and perfectly map the intricate make-up of the church through silhouettes, ceiling lighting and spotlights; all contributors to some of the shows most effective stage pictures.
Despite the extremely fitting choice of venue, there ironically lacks a tangible sense of place, because each scene bleeds into the next it could be perceived that all the action happens in the same room. A hushed voice to indicate a lack of ownership of the space or the sense of a breeze when the scene is outside, are clues that play a pivotal role in transporting the audience to a different world; a notion that is not entirely successful in this production. As the GSC is branded as a company that create “site-influenced performances” it is questionable why the space did not feel as well utilised as it could have, with many of the beautiful features of the building going unused in the action.
Running at 2 hours 45 minutes (including the interval) this production is beautifully performed, in a beautiful venue, but it is unclear what makes this show different from the countless performances of Romeo and Juliet that have gone before it.
If a traditional and safe telling of a classic is what an audience seeks, then this production is a clear winner, but here in 2018, with the world hanging in uncertainty now more than ever, surely a push for bold, surprising and risk-taking reinventions is what the world really needs.
Runs until: 24th February 2018 | Image: Matt Pereira