Romeo & Juliet Tours East-End Parks

The East London Shakespeare Festival (16 June - 13 Aug) promises a ‘summer of partying and love’ and a production of Romeo and Juliet that is ‘riotous and atmospheric’. What’s more, it’s coming to a park or community space, not theatres, near you, if you live in any one of a number of East London locations, so it’s not even traditional open-air theatre.

Directed by Rosie Ward, and featuring UpFront Theatre Company which she founded in 2014, this production takes the East End to Verona, with Nick Hardie as Romeo and Emilia Harrild as Juliet. All other members of the cast will take on dual roles: Ursula Early as the Nurse and the Prince; James Hyland asTybalt and Friar Lawrence; Chris Knight as Mercutio and Paris and the recently-graduated Sadé Philpotts making her theatrical debut as Lady Capulet and Benvolio. Also joining the company as an Apprentice Actor, Caitlin Stevenson will be playing several of the smaller roles including Lady Montague, Balthasar and Rosaline.

In this version Ward says she has created a setting “in which Lord Montague can trace his family's lineage and Verona-come-East London heritage back to the 15th Century”. But this is a modern-day takes in which “he belongs to the most traditional gentlemen’s clubs, is captain of the golf club and enjoys country pursuits. In contrast, she says, “Lord Capulet has recently made his many millions in the building trade and bought and renovated the biggest house he could get in Verona… at the end of the Montague’s garden”. There has to be source of dispute in this play and here we have it. “If they’re not blocking planning permission applications or making noise complaints, both families love to throw extravagant parties, determined to better the other. The tensions between the two men have filtered to the next generation, so the air is ripe with the threat of a scrap.” Romeo already has a privileged life, but Lord Capulet decides to give his daughter’s chances a boost by sending her to the local independent college.

Romeo and Juliet seems never to have lost its appeal over the centuries. There is a level of accessibility inherent within its story which exceeds even the four great tragedies or even the fantasy world of the ever-popular A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It’s a tragic love story that emotionally reaches out to audiences and, as Ward points out, is packed with “such an intense range of emotions: love and hate, fear and anticipation, comedy and tragedy”, all of which she says give her a thrill. She’s also strived to heighten its relevance by bringing it into modern times “with the feud of the Montagues and Capulets being fuelled by class, snobbery and ‘new money’ versus ‘old money’, issues which she relates to along with so may others she knows who live, as she does, in East London.

Her aim in this production is to “tap into the darkness, impulsiveness and grit of Romeo and Juliet. It was imperative to me to make sense of the extreme choices Romeo and Juliet make - their love has to be real and passionate and all-encompassing otherwise, why does the play take such a tragic turn? But, as we know, if these were just a pair of free, independent young lovers the ending would be quite different and the overbearing weight of familial duty and division would be absent. Hence, she says, “There are external threats which leave the couple feeling like they have no choice”. It’s not all doom and gloom however. She promises also to have found the “scope for comedy” in the play with some “wonderful ‘rom-com’” moments.

The aim is to create a festival vibe. Gates will open an hour before the show. Picnic are encourages along with participation in a mask-making workshop which means you can really feel part of the famous ball! At the Waltham Forest venues a community ensemble of local residents will be involved and the production team is partnering with local performing arts college, Big Creative, offering invaluable behind- the-scenes insight and support with creative career options and new skills for their students. There are also Pay-What-You-Can performances and heavily reduced school matinees for local Waltham Forest Schools with a 20-minute pre-show workshop.

There really can be no reason for not checking out this exciting new production. As the Bard, himself said, “For summer and his pleasures wait on thee” and “summer's lease hath all too short a date”.

Dates and Venues

29th-30th June: Hoxton Community Gardens,Hoxton Street/Stanway,N1 6RG

5th-9thJuly: Fellowship Square,Waltham Forest Town Hall, Forest Road, E17 4JF

15th-16th July: Wanstead Park,Warren Road, London E11 2LS

1st-23rd July: HighamsPark,The Charter Road,London IG8 9RF

27th-30th July: Clissold Park. Green Lanes, London N16 9HJ

2nd-3rd Aug: Valentines Park,n ext to Valentine's Park Cafe, Ilford, IG1 4SB

4th-6th Aug: Hornsey School For Girls,Inderwick Rd, N8 9JF

5th-7th Aug: Springfield Park, Pavilion Café, South East Springfield Park, E5 9EF

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this article has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now