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Creation Theatre Company - Romeo and Juliet

28th July to 11th September 2004.

From The Times.

Three stars
One of the curious laws to do with open-air theatre states that, no matter what the weather gods throw at us in the afternoon, by half past seven the skies mysteriously clear and the show will go on.

Occasionally a thunderstorm disobeys the law but the companies that regularly run open-air seasons report that on average they have to cancel only one performance in a hundred, a remarkable figure for the much-abused British summer.

Cancellation looked probable for the opening night of the latest Shakespeare production by the Oxford-based Creation Theatre, the company that performs each summer on the lawns of the Headington Hill Park, just across the river from Magdalen College. The vistas of trees receding in all directions may not suggest Verona’s twisting streets, but they contribute a sense of worlds elsewhere that would be hard to achieve indoors with so small a cast.

Creation Theatre (now in its ninth year) takes over no more than a tiny corner of the park, erecting pavilions beside the copper beeches to serve as bars and constructing ranks of seats to face the massive oak from which Juliet’s balcony protrudes.

At the close of Abigail Anderson’s production the ghosts of the dead lovers rise from the ground and walk hand in hand into the misty distance, an effect that only the open air can provide. In an especially good touch Jon Foster’s Friar Laurence is busy picking herbs in front of us while Romeo can be seen running through the background trees on his way to the evidently remote cell.

Nor are good touches missing from some of the acting, though helpful nuances of character vanish in the severe cutting Anderson has imposed on the text. George Mayfield’s effervescent Mercutio, almost in motley clad, proclaims an intelligence far ahead of the Veronese milling around him, though it’s hard to understand why he should pay such attention to the stubborn Romeo. A homoerotic bond is the usual explanation but that seems not the case here.

Jamie Harding’s Romeo stands well, feet scuffling the sand, but the vocal demands of acting in the open make all his loud passions sound too similar. Elaine Symons also veers into melodrama as death looms, but she projects a sense of little girl utterly lost, and the two of them manage subtlety in their post-coital sweetness on the balcony. The duelling is terrific, thanks to Kate Walters, fight director, and the rain clouds obeyed the law and gave us no more than a sprinkle.


From the Newbury Weekly News.

Hostilities resumed

Creation Theatre Company: Romeo and Juliet, at Headington Hill Park, until September 11

The two tribes of Montague and Capulet go to war again, only two years after Creation Theatre Company last staged Romeo and Juliet.

This time the location is their now permanent residence at Headington Hill Park, Oxford, a near-perfect setting for director Abigail Anderson's imaginative realisation of Shakespeare's story of duelling Italian families.

Tellingly, in the programme notes, Anderson makes the point that the drama veers from high comedy to darkest tragedy just as the audience experiences daylight fading into night.

The outdoor setting allows for a strong immediacy of action, with Romeo's signature scene by Juliet's balcony delivered from halfway up the seating area.

Fight scenes (thrillingly-choreographed by Kate Waters) appear more exciting as the actors scratch up the stony surface of the stage.

The leads are well matched with youthful looks and energetic verse-speaking. Elaine Symons, so good in Out of Joint's contemporary play Duck, last year, is a vibrant Juliet, full of wide-eyed allure for the pouting, pretty Romeo (Jamie Harding). Romeo and Juliet succeeds if the audience feels that this couple can't wait to couple. They can't.

The star-cross'd lovers are well-directed to reflect them being too young to cope with the political situation developing around them.

Anderson surprises us by casting Matthew Hendrickson as the Nurse, a cross between Postman Pat and a pantomime Les Dawson chatting over the garden fence. Even in the most tragic scenes, Hendrickson's inflections cause minor chuckles.

This (as usual with Creation) heavily cut Romeo and Juliet is funnier than most productions, thanks mainly to George Mayfield's tousle-haired, umbrella-duelling Mercutio and Jean-Marc Perret's OTT Tybalt, only one step down from the Master in Doctor Who. Their fight scene is the best in the production, an incredible fusion of tomfoolery and unexpected murder.

This abridged version also allows us to feel more sympathy than usual for the Prince's family after the deaths of Mercutio and Paris. There is an unusually up-beat finale with the ghosts of the lovers passing a row of candles, blowing in the wind, fading gently into the woods.

Quite magical. Brave the weather, it's worth it.