Last Updated on June 25, 2021 by Madeleine Morrow
A new production opens at The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Press night for Romeo and Juliet at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre felt particularly emotional. Not because of the tragedy of the play’s ending, but due to it being my first time back at the theatre since March 2020. This is the longest time I have been an absent spectator for over 40 years. Surprisingly, it is the first time I have visited this particular theatre. It brought back to me my first exposure to Romeo and Juliet, as a teenager in my home town, where an annual school trip to the open-air Shakespeare festival was a highlight of the academic year. Shakespeare performed open air – as it was originally – is always a different experience to watching the drama unfold from an indoor seat. It is more romantic sitting under the stars (and a special thrill when the UK weather permits) and also more immediate.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was an industry leader last summer when it re-opened during the pandemic, enabling more than 30 000 theatre-goers to attend performances with Covid safe measures in place. This summer, with a 50% reduction in seating capacity, the Theatre once again welcomes audiences to its season of plays. . The first of these is Romeo and Juliet which runs until 24 July.
Directed by Kimberley Sykes, a director who likes to challenge audience assumptions, this production of Romeo and Juliet explores the extremes of emotion the young lovers are experiencing for the first time. Sykes observes, in a promotional video about the play, that since the audience all know how the famous drama ends, she has chosen to focus on how it happens. She has worked with the cast on how the play speaks to contemporary society. Isabel Adomakoh Young, playing Juliet, is inspired by the fact that these two characters are not only a couple in love in a society that does not want them to be together, but that they refuse to be defined and choose their own destiny.
The set makes full use of its outdoor setting, the earth cleaved open in the aftermath of an earthquake that took place 11 years before Romeo and Juliet was written. The backdrop takes the form of a building site – all scaffolding and platforms – which is used to terrific effect as the young characters scramble up and down throughout this physically demanding performance. The older actors use ramps to ascend and descend.
The cast put in a vibrant and dynamic performance. A particularly strong lead was provided by Isabel Adomakoh Young whose emotional range was wonderfully showcased. From ingenue in love to grief when Romeo is banished, rage when her cousin Tybalt is murdered and moral ambiguity when the murderer is none other than her new husband. Throughout this rollercoaster of emotions, Adomakoh Young was utterly believable. Other standout performances were Emma Cunniffe as Nurse and Peter Hamilton Dyer as Friar who gave a poignant portrayal of a man grappling with the mental health of his young charges. Michelle Fox as Tybalt was riveting in her rage and vengefulness while Cavan Clarke commanded the stage as Mercutio, putting in a performance both comic and confident. Joel MacCormack as Romeo grew into his role as the play progressed and culminated in his utter disbelief at having been banished. While Friar remonstrates with him, trying to convince an anguished Romeo that he has escaped the death sentence, it is clear that for Romeo, life apart from his beloved Juliet is a life sentence he cannot endure.
This production of Romeo and Juliet foregrounded both gang violence and mental health, bringing the play right into our contemporary world. It left me thinking about the adolescent brain which, not fully developed, encourages risk-taking without a mature appreciation of consequence. Added to the impulsivity of many young people and the need to identify as part of a peer group, gang violence continues to carve a deathly path through the lives of the community. It cleaves apart a society much as the earthquake has opened a chasm in the ground. Have lessons been learnt from the devastation that occurred 11 years prior? It appears not. Shakespeare’s brilliance is not only in his writing but in his psychological understanding of the human mind and emotions. What rang true in the days of Romeo and Juliet rings the same warnings to audiences today.
Tickets for Romeo and Juliet are available from the Box Office and the production runs from now until 24 July with matinee performances on most Thursdays and Saturdays.
BOX OFFICE INFORMATION
Box Office 0333 400 3562* | openairtheatre.com
Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU
Lines open Mon-Fri 9am – 8pm / Sat 10am – 8pm / Sun & Bank Holidays 10am – 6pm. A £1.80 per ticket booking fee applies for telephone and online bookings (no booking fee when purchased in person at the box office counter)
Check our preview for more about the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre 2021 schedule