Romeo and Juliet: Guildford Shakespeare Company
ROMEO AND JULIET
- Director: Charlotte Conquest
- Designer: Lucy Wilkinson
- Vocal coach: Sarah Stephenson
The history of Holy Trinity Church, Guildford, predates Shakespeare and it was fitting that both playwright and venue should have been well served by Guildford Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet.
The piece negotiated the early hurdle of the prologue by delivering it in plainchant, so signalling immediately that there were fertile theatrical minds at work here.
A surprisingly forgiving acoustic meant there was little need for projection and Ellie Kirk brought a cinematic subtleness to Juliet while also making much of textual hints that this is a teenager with self-possession.
Christopher Kinneston was equally impressive as Romeo, finding much nuance in the relationships with his male friends as well as being credible in his romantic ardour. The standard of verse speaking was impressive throughout, with cast and director communicating every conceivable piece of innuendo yet never resorting to a crude telegraphing technique.
Given that my last experience of this play had the action set in the Gaza Strip with the feuding families portrayed unsubtly as Jewish settlers and Palestinians, it was a relief that there was no attempt to contextualise the Capulet-Montague quarrel. Programme notes claimed the action had been updated to the Regency period but the whole approach was so absorbing that the audience was caught up with the ageless themes and the pace of the narrative. While the running time may have been greater than the “two hours' traffic of our stage”, there was hardly a slack moment even though the central aisle was too long to be used regularly as a vamp.
This was a collaborative effort in which director Charlotte Conquest avoided gimmickry but was always alive to visual effect. She has an eye for group movement and her interpretation began to inhabit the whole space when the Capulets appeared as silhouettes within filigree work behind the altar. The ruse was effective in emphasising that this is a powerful, omnipresent family whose clannish nature spells trouble for the heroine.
Surprisingly, Dan Marsden’s lighting design was disappointing. Both the lovers are obsessed with illumination of all kinds and this is a constant theme in their exchanges. It should be said that I attended the matinee, with sun streaming through stained glass, but it still seemed that open goals were being missed in this department. On the whole, the production typified site-specific theatre of the purest kind in which the venue becomes another part of the mix without distracting from character or narrative. Guildford Shakespeare Company will perform Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Tempest outdoors in the summer for which they deserve full houses.