Director: Mark Burman
Writer: William Shakespeare
Reviewer: James Martin
The Public Reviews Rating:
Exbury Gardens played host to Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet on a pleasant Saturday evening in the New Forest. Chapterhouse put on another fine event with a beautifully serene location providing the backdrop for a simple set and a small cast. It started in the dimming light of dusk and the dark tragedy concluded under the stars. Despite the cold, the audience seemed attentive throughout and enjoyed the surrounds and the performance.
Romeo and Juliet needs little introduction or explanation but the play stood true to the original with several of the actors playing various roles. The direction was simple and left the story to be played out more by Shakespeare’s verse than by any complicated stage management or set design. The actors therefore were left to demonstrate the themes of ‘love, hate, passion, friendship, family, fate and death’. Some were equal to this concoction of emotions, others unfortunately failed to impress in conveying this.
Marcus Houden stole the show in the opening half playing the rude but playful Mercutio and it was an inevitable disappointment when his role came to an end following his character’s death. It was a masterful performance in stage presence, giving the audience laughs and shocks from Shakespeare’s script and kept us hanging on every word. Kelly Munro-Fawcett also added some real personality to the character of the haggard but endearing nurse with those present taking a shine to her role.
As for the eponymous Romeo and Juliet? Although they had the lion’s share of the lines (which they did not falter from) there seemed to lack a real chemistry on stage. The hapless Romeo played by Daniel Arbon never really grasped the emotive and tragic nature of love with his performance. Maria Lovelady who played Juliet brought much more enthusiasm to her role but still lacked some conviction playing the young damsel driven to killing herself through her passionate but doomed love for Romeo. John Fagan and Lawrence Boothman also gave creditable performances in their variety of roles.
The direction of Mark Burman must be commended for the seamless scene changes and smooth transitions from act to act. At no point was the flow of the show disturbed or disjointed waiting for performers to reach the stage. Holly Strickland’s live flute playing and Boothman’s violin added an extra element of charm for some fleeting moments like the dance at the feast and when Juliet took her sleeping potion.
The actors made the most of a very basic set consisting of just a small stage with a central banister, transporting the audience from scene to scene. Whether we were in the grand hall of the Capulets, below Juliet’s balcony or in the chamber where her limp body lay, we could picture the moment in our hearts without the help of lavish props.
As ever with Chapterhouse productions, you are greeted by the friendly cast members and left smiling. Although the quality of the performances may not have mesmerised or astounded, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I would recommend it to all ages and theatre goers. The evening began with picnics and wine being consumed, but luckily finished with woolly jumpers and rugs instead of umbrellas and raincoats under the chilly but magical starry night sky.
Tours until 27th August 2012
Romeo & Juliet - Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway, New Forest,