Romeo and Juliet @ Trentham Gardens 25th June 2011

Mister doesn’t like Shakespeare, so I was left to do this one with Mister’s brother and his wife. Mister’s brother had never seen Shakespeare performed before so this was really a voyage of discovery for him.  This production was staged by a company called Page 2 Stage. I had actually never seen Shakespeare done in a setting like this before – it was performed outside in the gardens while the audience sat with camping chairs and picnic baskets and layers of blankets to fend off the freeze of a British summer’s evening (although, not so many blankets for foolish, unprepared me, just frostbite).

Before I go on, a little apology – I seem to have lost the programme and so details like actors’ names will unfortunately be in short supply (i.e. zero). Apparently, the actor who plays Romeo, Darren Langford, has been in Hollyoaks, but as I don’t watch it, I can’t be certain…

We arrived early so we could get a good view (but, as you can see from my usual ‘quality’ photos, we were thwarted despite our efforts). The interesting outcome of this was that we got to see the company warm up before-hand and, personally, I found this whole ‘nuts and bolts’ behind the scenes sneaky peek fascinating.

Cast warm up.

I didn’t really know what to expect from a small and fairly new company, and with tickets at £12 a head, I don’t imagine their production budgets are huge either, but I was pleasantly blown-away!  It was a very youthful company and a vibrant and youthful production, fast paced, comedic and fun. Romeo and Juliet weren’t the earnest, angst ridden couple that I have seen in some productions, but flirty and irreverent; there was a humour to the characters that drew you in, made you love them so much that the tragedy of their eventual demise was all the more poignant.  The trio of Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio were absolutely hilarious together – the three performances witty, energetic and sometimes camp, a lovely three-way bromance.  I really liked the Nurse too. She is always a funny character and quite rude, and this particular incarnation had all that, but also tenderness with Juliet. All that said, there were one or two dodgy performances, but thankfully, only from fairly minor characters like the apocathery, so although you couldn’t help but notice them, it didn’t detract too much from the magic of the central performances.

There were some interesting production points too. It was set in a forest. The play programme explained this as making the two warring families seem less about money and titles and more about simple honour, but I suspect the real reason for this setting was the fact that the company were also staging a production of Robin Hood on alternate nights and the scenery would not need changing (ahem…).  If I had more time and money on my hands, I might have been tempted to test my theory.  I liked the choice of contemporary music too as a soundtrack to the performance, such as Max Richter’s gorgeous reworking of Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth, played during the final death scenes of the play; it served to heighten the emotion and had me crying like the proverbial baby.  The costume styling was very fresh and contemporary too (well, circa 1985 anyway as I couldn’t help thinking of Adam and the Ants/ Duran Duran every time Romeo tripped onto the stage) and I liked the splicing of a more traditional Shakespearean costume look with something quite punky. 

Wild Boys!

This production wasn’t without it’s faults. I’ve already mentioned some of the weaker performances. There were technical problems with the mics failing from time to time which jarred you back to reality. The Prince was played in a very strange way by a faceless shadowy figure dressed in a gold hooded robe who popped up on the balcony every now and again; there was an echo type reverb thing going on with his voice which just made it so you couldn’t understand what he was saying.  The same with Romeo’s dad, who was obviously played by an actor being used in another role, so he wore a red hooded robe all the time and you could never see his face- it just looked weird.  But  I really enjoyed it and would go to see another production by this company. If they come your way and the tickets are that reasonably priced, go check them out – (here is some info about them from This is Staffordshire).