Romeo and Juliet

The Temple is the thing at this unusual production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet -Temple Church that is. One of London’s oldest churches used way back when as the city’s headquarters for the Knights Templar, the Temple for one week only becomes a backdrop to tell one of love and tragedy’s oldest tales. Antic Disposition have commandeered a fantastic space to perform the story of two star-crossed lovers; but this alone is not quite enough at times to make it as striking as one might have hoped.

The Church’s domineering presence may be felt throughout this review as well as the performance itself but that’s not to say that the actors don’t flourish of their own accord too.

Nevertheless, when first walking amongst the cobbled streets that lead to the archway of the ancient Round where our production coyly awaits, it’s difficult not to be swept up in a completely different world. Crusading monks and courting Princes, lowly serfs and trotting horses all flash by as you enter the stone-walled quiet of the Temple. Amongst the seats and the central platform used as a stage lie stone effigies of fallen Knights, and tablets decreeing courageous names from glories past line the walls – a very fitting setting for two warring families from Verona.

And yet, what’s in a setting? At times it feels as if even more could have been done to bring alive this amazing location. Juliet’s entombment as she waits to awaken to her Romeo works brilliantly in such a space, Tom Boucher’s lighting really bringing a sense of chilled and deathly calm as her sleeping shadow plays against the Church’s walls. However in the famous balcony scene, instead of viewing our Juliet high up in the heavens within one of the Temple’s alcoves, she merely stands on a slightly raised platform on stage. As the higher crevices of the Church are used briefly later on, it’s not because of inaccessibility that such an important scene wasn’t given the same treatment, and it’s a shame that there wasn’t some way of adding an extra bit of magic and spectacle to one of Shakespeare’s most well-known scenes.

The Church’s domineering presence may be felt throughout this review as well as the performance itself but that’s not to say that the actors don’t flourish of their own accord too. Dylan Kennedy plays the lovesick Romeo with an earnest yearning and he and Bryony Tebbutt’s Juliet make a believable infatuated duo. Helen Evans’ Nurse channels the comedian Catherine Tate more than a little but adds some light fun to the play, and Russell Anthony’s Friar Laurence gets the most laughs for some excellent comedic timing of lines. The cast is a small one, to the extent that some characters are seemingly resurrected from the dead near the end to play someone new. Sometimes this can also be felt in the lack of passion and mystique that such a play of romance, lust and love should evoke – it’s almost as if directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero have left all the mystery and grandeur to the setting.

Antic Disposition’s production is at once an enchanting way to tell Shakespeare yet at the same time a performance falling on its own stunning sword. The Temple is a triumph, but this Romeo and Juliet falls just short of the greatness that such a space commands.

Reviews by Laura Cress

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The Blurb

In the scorching heat of summer, the streets of Verona simmer with tension. Two rival families are fighting an undeclared war. With emotions running high, Verona is a powder keg of barely suppressed violence. And when love strikes the houses of Montague and Capulet, it sparks a chain of events that will blow the city apart.

Located in the secluded heart of London’s legal quarter between Fleet Street and the River Thames, Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th-century and is one of London’s most beautiful and historic buildings. Romeo and Juliet will be performed in the unique circular setting of the ‘Round’, the oldest part of the Church, consecrated in 1185. The production offers a rare opportunity to visit the building and explore the quiet cobbled lanes, courtyards and gardens of this little-known area of the city.

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