Thursday, August 18

Romeo and Juliet – Chester Grosvenor Park Outdoor Theatre

It’s not often that you feel transported to Italy in a park in Chester, but this year’s repertory theatre company has done just that with its new production of Romeo and Juliet. This is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play: the story of two young lovers from different families, who meet by chance and are torn apart by family history and circumstance. The play asks us to consider whether love can overcome division, or whether forbidden love in a divided society is simply doomed.

This new adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is set – the programme tells us – in the 1950s, albeit with the original text, and I was very interested to see how that would be incorporated into the production. However, I suspect because of the minimal set and the nature of the outdoor space, there was little other than the costumes – which were beautiful and very representative of that era – to indicate its period, which was a bit disappointing.

This was particularly true in the choice of music. I loved the inclusion of music to underscore some of the key moments in the play; and the musical directors ME + Deboe had a great understanding of the need to balance the music with the acting and enhance the play rather than detract from it. However, given all that, I was surprised that they didn’t choose to use music of the era, and instead chose to rearrange modern pop songs to complement their new compositions.

The choice of setting aside, this is an exceptional production of a well-known play. The director, John Young, has worked with the cast to really bring out the contrast between the romance and violence in the story, and in our current society where division and discrimination feel rife, this story has a lot to say. The movement director, Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, and the fight director, Kaitlin Howard, have made an excellent contribution to the way that the production fills the space. This production holds nothing back, and I loved it!

Samuel Awoyo and Joëlle Brabban played the titular Romeo and Juliet with authenticity, showing a great depth of emotion as they lived out their romance and tragedy with vulnerability in the intimate space of the theatre in the round. I was particularly moved by Juliet’s monologues throughout Act 2, as she struggled with the impact of her new relationship.

The comedy moments in the play were well highlighted, and the actors’ interaction with the audience was cleverly balanced with the more serious elements of the dialogue. The nurse, Nicola Blackman, was having so much fun with one audience member at one point that she forgot where she was up to, and Haylie Jones and Eddy Payne as Mercutio and Benvolio respectively were an excellent scene-stealing comedy double act as Romeo’s closest friends. However, Ms Jones’ performance didn’t stop there; her monologues were incredibly engaging, and her defence of Romeo was very powerful.

This is an excellent production for introducing people to Shakespeare and for long-term lovers of his work. Dress for the weather, take your picnic and enjoy this wonderful production in the park!

Romeo and Juliet is one of three productions in this year’s season at Chester’s Grosvenor Park Outdoor Theatre, with performances throughout the summer until Sunday 28th August. The other two productions are Little Women and Stig of the Dump (an integrated BSL accessible performance). Performance details and ticket information can be found here:

Reviewer: Jo Tillotson

Reviewed: 15th July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★