August 10, 2022

Theatre on the tea lawn – Romeo and Juliet at Lauderdale House

Put your rugs on the grass and get out your picnics, it’s the annual Shakespeare in the rain season. Except that yesterday at Lauderdale House the sun shone, it wasn’t cold, I didn’t get bitten by mosquitos and there were no showers. Shooting Stars’ production of Romeo and Juliet is a successful reminder of why people dare to put on Shakespeare out-of-doors in Britain.

Lauderdale House makes an appropriate Verona, with mature trees in the wings and a window over the colonnaded rear of the house providing a perfect balcony for Emily Loomes’ feisty Juliet. The famous scene plays out with the help of teddy bears, which sums up the ethos of the production. This is a fun adaptation, at least until the tragedy takes over. All the cast have fun with the modern-dressed characters with Graham Dron’s drunkenly extroverted Mercutio and Rory Fairbairn’s chips-off-the-floor-eating Peter being particularly amusing.

Shooting Stars aims to make Shakespeare accessible and pride themselves on modernising the plays. The cast list and script have been cut to speed things up and keep focus. The cast wander amongst the audience, occasionally involving them in the scene and the children watching remained interested throughout. Pop music blares between scenes, only occasionally staying too long and blocking the returning voices.

Romeo and Juliet is a theatrical national treasure but though it’s remembered as a great love story it’s a tale that depends on unreasonably-powered drugs, bad timing and oddly-motivated clergy. That’s without mentioning the underage forced marriage plot line. But as director Helen Crosse says, ‘the magic is in the words’. The poetry was clear even though the outdoor setting meant that the cast was fighting against bursts of traffic, planes, the occasional siren and a low-flying helicopter. Joe Sargent’s youthful Romeo is an endearing presence, understandably preferable as a husband to Maxwell Tyler’s swaggering Paris.

It’s fun to lounge on the grass, sipping wine whilst watching a play and this production lets you experience the special atmosphere of Shakespeare played out-of-doors – although the aroma of other people’s picnics can force envious glances across the lawn. Take a well-stocked wicker-basket to avoid food-envy and don’t forget a jumper. Last night’s summery evening was perfect Romeo and Juliet in the garden weather, but these are the show must go on events. Take a (hopefully unnecessary) coat and a picnic and enjoy Shakespeare in the wild, one of the English summer’s annual highlights.

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