A stylish and intelligent Romeo and Juliet at the Open Air
“Thy three hours wife”
Kimberley Sykes directs this production of Romeo and Juliet deliberately without an interval. She wants us not to reflect on what happens in Verona until after the end of the play but to be caught up with the speed of events. It is a bold reading but sincere, not one which has been created for the sake of novelty.
We know at the end of the play five young people have died and one parent. In just four days. We know that the Capulets and Montagues have been at war for generations but not why. They just hate each other. We can immediately identify which family they are from; the Capulets wear white, the Montagues black, those without an allegiance, like the Prince and Friar and Paris wear grey.
This Verona was where an earthquake happened eleven years ago. The town is still recovering set in volcanic rock, scaffolding reinforcing the structures in Naomi Dawson’s set. The play opens with the dust and smoke and fissures, a symbolic divide of these two houses.
The Capulets’ masked ball is a socially distanced, visual masterpiece. The music has a heavy beat, maybe heavy metal, and masked figures dance singly and assertively on the scaffolding tiers, all of them flinging off cloaks to reveal clothes that sparkle and shine and shimmer. The dance is more war dance than ballroom.
Romeo (Joel MacCormack) fresh from his infatuation with Rosaline, falls for her cousin Juliet (Isabel Adomakoh Young) instantly, fast enough for them almost to qualify as contestants on Married At First Sight, Verona.
The Friar (Peter Hamilton Dyer)’s advice to Romeo is to slow down but the fight and deaths of Mercutio (Cavan Clarke) and Tybalt (Michelle Fox) accelerate events.
The fight takes us back to the thumb biting aggression that starts the first act. Hot headed Tybalt is a woman with red hair and temper to match. Dressed in white with DMs, had she a bowler she could have stepped out of Clockwork Orange Droogs.
Emma Cunniffe’s Nurse is assertive and likeable, a stronger female role model for Juliet than her mother Lady Capulet (Ellie Beavan). The nurse tells Romeo to be a man after standing up to bullying from the Montague entourage or should it be gang?
As the Friar counsels Romeo with the plan to go to Mantua, there is percussive music bristling tension. In the scene where Capulet (Andrew French) tells Juliet she has to marry Paris, I found his brutality shocking. Was he apoplectic with anger, or drunk? He made me shudder as he pulled the petals off the single red rose he held.
Returning from the Friar with a plan, Juliet is suppliant towards her father, arms outstretched forehead on the floor. Isabel Adomakoh Young is impressive in her speaking of Shakespeare’s verse and I think the Open Air have found a new star. In her early scenes she bounces with joy and later shows determination and courage.
The speed and cuts to the text may interfere with understanding as to how the friar’s message fails to reach Romeo.
Sombre, classical music sets the mood for the preparations for Juliet’s funeral. The striplights turn purple and people carry torches for the procession and light columns of flame. From my view, angled onto the stage, I was concerned lest Lady Capulet would be set on fire but the flames add to the spectacle.
In this production, the dead walk slowly away from the place where they died but wait and watch to see if any lessons have been learnt. The wars will end as neither Capulets nor Montagues have a direct heir.
Bravo to the Open Air for bringing theatre back with elegant and meaningful style!
Romeo and Juliet
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kimberley Sykes
Isabel Adomakoh Young
Peter Hamilton Dyer
Louise Mai Newberry
Director: Kimberley Sykes
Designer: Naomi Dawson
Lighting Designer: Ciaran Bagnall
Composer and Sound Designer: Giles Thomas
Movement: Ingrid Mackinnon
Fight Director: Kev McCurdy
Running Time: One hour 50 minutes without an interval
Booking to 24th July 2021
Open Air Theatre
London NW1 4NU
Phone: 0333 400 3562
Tube: Baker Street
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Open Air
on 23rd June 2021