Heartbreak Productions open air version of the star crossed lovers story, tugged at our heartstrings this weekend in Jesmond Dene, Newcastle. A much longer show than their effervescent Alice, we watched the first half of the play in the setting summer evening, and appropriately, the darker turns and deadly conclusion of the story were revealed under cover of darkness. Romeo and Juliet is of course about a grand romance – everyone always remembers that bit – but it is also about the tribal and territorial nature of humans and their tendency to turn to aggressive and violent means to solve their differences. In West Side Story the Montagues and Capulets become gangs of different ethnicity in the neighbourhoods of downtown New York. In the world of Heartbreak productions they become two rival football teams and the conceit of a modern day Verona gives a thinly sliced comic framing device which sandwiches the substantial Shakespearean filling.
Come on do the Conga
Sets and costumes are, as usual, minimal, but what is never minimal, is the sheer energy exuded by the young (apart from one slightly more mature member) and impressively versatile cast. Taking photographs was a challenge because for three hours no one ever stood still! Ben Burman was a muscular, handsome and commanding Romeo and was the real lynch pin of the play.
It was a warm evening..
He is a very talented actor indeed who kept my attention even when it threatened to wander due to leg cramps from sitting on the grass on my tartan picnic blanket.
Phillipa Flynn as Juliet flew around the stage conveying the sense of youth and innocence caught up in intrigue with ease.
Come out come out wherever you are!
Matthew Harrison James, another impressive young actor seamlessly switched between two or three roles and Howard Scott walker provided some comic relief with his pantomime dame version of the nurse, and for some reason I particularly enjoyed his hesitant, spectacle wearing Paris, who was just a bit, well, wet. He was also the apothecary who gave Romeo the fatal poison and came on looking like a very realistic drug dealer.
Dastardly drug dealer
There was a large and appreciative audience that night and when Phillipa appealed for left over food and drink for hungry and thirsty actors at the end of the performance (a Heartbreak tradition apparently) I am quite sure there would have been plenty left for them to celebrate their hard night’s work. Heartbreak runs without help of subsidy or grant which is to my mind what the best theatre will always be able to do. You aren’t out to please your masters at the Arts Council, you’ve got to please the audience. Romeo and Juliet is an engaging and refreshing take on an old favourite, catch it while you can.