Brighton Open Air Theatre is an ideal setting for This Is My Theatre’s mission to bring classic plays to alternative, accessible venues. Warbling blackbirds and the sway of wildflowers lend a fittingly romantic vibe to our doomed lovers, and the sun shone for Montagues and Capulets alike.
An inventive adaptation on a beautiful afternoon.
This small theatre company excel at inventive adaptations, and stage today’s play with only six actors. Ethan Taylor is excellent as Juliet’s nurse, and using him in a traditionally female role means fragile Juliet gets the care and affection her father denies her. Going a step further and casting a woman in one of the male roles would have been a nice counterpoint, though. Shakespeare’s plays are robust enough for more than one gender swap.
I enjoyed watching Matt Tweddle as not one but two villains. He’s fiery as Tybalt and smarmy as Paris, and confidently switches between the two without a hitch in audience understanding. Of the several deaths on stage (this is a tragedy, after all), his was the most convincing, for all that no one mourned him.
In case the sun and birds and Romeo’s smitten grin let us think this was a happy tale, lamenting choral song haunts the play’s most should-be-joyful moments. This Is My Theatre have a knack of using music to enhance the atmosphere of their shows, and this chorus lent a solemn spookiness, foreshadowing the twists and turns ahead.
Which is just as well, as not all key points were signalled well enough for me to understand what was happening. Romeo’s meeting with the apothecary and whatever happened to the Friar’s lost letters seemed unclear, which affected the coherence of the story. Some of the impact was lost in a fumbled end, despite the charm of the majority of the production.
Maybe it was the strength of performance, maybe it’s my age, but for me the heart of this adaptation lay with the older roles in the play. While Romeo and Juliet moped about being young and impulsive, my sympathies lay with the Nurse and Simon Stallard’s tender Friar Lawrence, doomed to fail to protect the vulnerable youth in their care.
It’s always a pleasure to see how different performers use the green canvas of Brighton’s beautiful open air theatre, and I look forward to seeing what Sarah Slator and This Is My Theatre do next.