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Progress Theatre - Romeo and Juliet

18th to 30th July 2005.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Love in Ruins

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by Terry Mackay, is the Progress Theatre’s 10th open-air production and they return with triumph to their spiritual open-air summer arena - the Abbey Ruins.

Last year, owing to the work at The Forbury, in Reading, they were exiled to Bracknell’s South Hill Park.

Romeo and Juliet was penned when Shakespeare was at the peak of his powers as a writer of comedies and it is true that the world of the play is closer to that of the comedies than of the tragedies.

The young teen protagonists fall in love yet their rivalling families -the Capulets and Montagues, impede their progress. Their passion, however powerful, is unfortunately overshadowed by hate. It is their tragic deaths, and not the power of their love, that overturns the feud. It can also be criticised as a play of ‘if onlys’. However, this slight imperfection has never deterred audiences.

Progress’ production has the air of comedy; with its surface gloss of masked balls and bawdy street scenes, yet it is still eclipsed by the omnipresent spectre of death. Although audiences marvel at the stately poetry of love, I tend to find it a bit tedious and look to minor parts to add suitable comedy or eloquent gravitas. Mark Oosterveen’s bawdy, effusive Mercutio and Emma Sterry’s garrulous Nurse are the perfect comic examples and, although merely supporting roles, they keep this play alive.

Gravitas comes in the form of the dour and stern heads of the respective houses – Capulet (John Flint) and Montague (Philip Davies), belligerent Tybalt (Jon Powell) and the troubled Escalus, Prince of Verona (John Goodman) who has the unfortunate task of maintaining the peace.

The star-crossed lovers do their stuff, yet their youth and impetuousness overshadows it. At times, I felt that I didn’t care whether they lived or died. However, blame that on the text and not the performances of young actors Ben Ashton and Rebecca Pitt.

This production, although sparsely staged, is compensated by the stately venue and the early 19th-century ‘empire-line’ costumes and uniforms. The economy of space comes to the fore in the credible and sometimes unsettling street fights, expertly choreographed by fight director Evelyn Frith.

One always senses that both audience and cast are having fun at these performances. The actors appear to revel in the freedom of the Abbey, which is very different from the strictures of their theatrical home. And clearly that enthusiasm is equally shared by the audience in this generous production.