A dramatic opening to the play sees a slightly ironic influence by West Side Story as the rival families emerge in 50s dress, carefully choreographed in slow motion. The prologue is split between cast members, yet it isn’t all that effective and feels a little juvenile in comparison to the sophistication of the opening scene’s choreography, mastered by Liam Steel.
One amazing aspect of this theatrical space is its mysterious ability to stimulate all of the senses. This is something particular to the Open Air Theatre. This impact on the senses leaves images engraved in the mind. Case in point is the incense used to escort the seemingly dead Juliet to the Capulets’ tomb. The scent travels into the audience and beckons us into the scene. Sumptuous costumes, especially at the Capulet’s masquerade ball, brighten up the stage and offer further amusement for the audience with the Montague’s sizeable codpieces. The live singing during the ball is effective to a point, but when the fated moment of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting is presented at the front of the stage, the music and dancing in the background is a little too overpowering, and become a distraction from what ought to be the focal point. This happens again as the Nurse sings in the background whilst Romeo and Juliet are in conversation.
The balcony scene is a romantic masterpiece, like melted toffee the poetry flows mellifluously between Nicholas Shaw and Laura Donnelly. Wisely, director Timothy Sheader leaves the 1950s influence out at this point. The scene ends with Romeo walking into the auditorium, giddy with love. There, across the audience, they hold their gaze, ecstatic with affection and unable to leave each other’s sight. The result is heart-warming and truly effective.
Oscar Pearce offers an astounding performance as Mercutio. He has such presence onstage and truly makes this role his own, full of the confident, cock-sure vivacity of this attractive bad-boy character. When the fight scene begins in which Mercutio is slain, I could barely watch, desperately wishing he would not die, wanting to see more. The deaths themselves, however, are brilliantly executed, with effective bleeding and a gruesome slit of Tybalt’s (Ben Joiner) throat provoking sounds of horror from many in the audience.
A wonderfully romantic evening of entertainment, this production portrays particularly well the naivety and intensity of these young lovers. Though the production makes their tender ages very clear, it also well-illustrates the overwhelming depth of their intense passion for each other. Aside from the emotional rollercoaster, I left desperately wishing I could have a best friend like Pearce’s Mercutio—far and away the best performance of the night.