DramaReviewShakespeareShakespeare 400South West

Romeo and Juliet: The Secret Garden, Royal William Yard, Plymouth

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Mark Laville
Reviewer: Karen Bussell

A pared back Romeo and Juliet is delighting audiences in Plymouth this month.

Simple, slick and full of modern twists, the Bard’s iconic tale of star-crossed lovers is playing at the Secret Garden in The Royal William Yard.

Committed to using local talent, the Barbican Theatre’s Artistic Director has nabbed Mark Jardine, fresh from his Mamma Mia! Tour; harnessed the dramatic skills of City College lecturer Nicola Rosewarne and East 15-trained Kate Hunter, plus a host of rising stars recruited from The Actors Hub, a touring training theatre company based in Plymouth’s University of St Mark &St John.

This R&J is rife with brooding hoodied street gangs, testosterone-fuelled Hooray Henrys and much teenage angst played out (for the most part) in red, black and grey.

Holly Hewat is an engaging Juliet – 17 in this production – she mixes rebellion and adolescent petulance with wide-eyed wonder at first love with Giorgio Kays’ fickle Romeo understated as a nicely poised foil. His anguished stabbing of the belligerent Tybalt (Owen Lewis) is beautifully executed.

Hunter is a feisty young Nurse exuding excitement at her ward’s infatuation while Jardine borders on the creepy as a touchy-feely meddling Friar Lawrence and Rosewarne, rather dramatic throughout, is beautifully on point as a distraught Lady Capulet weeping over her wayward daughter’s body.

Last in the line-up but by no means least are the stand out stars of the show: John James McColl and Connor Reed. McColl makes an excellent Benvolio – one of the boys but ready to temper and treat and his comic timing is excellent. Reed is mesmerising – commanding the stage and attention – whether as a lurking hobo, cheeky servant or a spirited gobby Mercutio, up for any party, scrap or general mucking about. Expect to see much more of him in the future.

The Company exudes cohesiveness belying the short period of working together. Their a cappella harmonies are superb as fleeting snippets of well-known songs herald the next scene – Sunshine Of Your Love, Ever Fallen in Love, Here Comes the Sun, Take Me To Church and more – and the physical theatre is standout.

Played on designer Jacqueline Slade’s simple, small black square the Company are the set – human doors, clusters of bodies making balconies and beds, and with few props. Pared down indeed but this works.

A great production in a lovely outdoor setting – pack a blanket and cushion and enjoy the local talent.

Runs until 21 August | Image:Gem Ward

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A great production

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