Review: Romeo and Juliet at Lancaster Castle

Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet.

The claustrophobic world that breeds brawling love and loving hate between the Montagues and Capulets is dramatised brilliantly in Attic Door’s promenade production of Romeo and Juliet at Lancaster Castle.

Skilful blending of parts and doubling allows a cast of just five to deliver an intense, explosive performance where comic moments intensify the tragic loss of a younger generation.

Strong acting accompanied by a design with the Capulets as white chess pieces and Montagues as black, made the plot clear. Perceptive editing and direction brings out the nuances of Shakespeare’s text.

Romeo and Juliet’s adolescent heterosexual romance is flanked by same-sex bonds.

Male affections for Romeo, following the ancient Greek model of love between older men and younger boys, is given depth by conflating the roles of Mercutio / Benvolio and doubling with Friar Lawrence. Phil Chandler’s masterful performance of these parts brought out the full range of emotions from platonic affection, in Benvolio’s poignant recognition of Romeo’s love for women, to suppressed erotic passion in Mercutio’s speech about the dreams inspired by Queen Mab.

Cross-generational female bonds were emphasised in the Capulet household whose colour was logically black since it was headed by a young, widowed Lady Capulet.

Emma Nixon was outstanding in this role, nervously eager as she welcomed spectators to the Capulet ball, flirtatious with male characters, flipping from anger to empathy with her daughter, and reaching a tragic climax when she discovered Juliet’s body and realised that white wedding festival had turned to ‘black funeral’.

Corcoran, as Juliet, was her mother’s mirror image, beautifully fragile yet gaining a commanding strength over the verse and the audience when she asked Friar Lawrence for the poison.

Her rendition of Juliet’s fear, imagining waking up in the Capulet tomb, was moving. The older Nurse was played with a delightful flirtatious warmth and humour by the multi-talented Ruth Gregson.

She also portrayed Paris with real panache as a revoltingly lascivious older dandy, a brilliant piece of cross-casting that emphasised the brittle fragility of the Capulet household under the male gaze.

Gregson’s further doubling as the Capulet servant and as the Prince, whipping off one guise to appear in another, constituted a truly virtuoso performance. Josiah Priestley as Romeo, clad first in all white, embodied a transcendent confidence in the triumphant power of love.

His assurance with Shakespeare’s language, giving each vowel, consonant and pause its full weight, made him a delight to listen to.

By showing Romeo’s optimistic belief in common sense, even in banishment, he made us feel the tragic impact of the final scenes.

Lancaster Castle’s settings materialised the separation of the lovers as they spoke from opposite sides of the courtrooms, or were imprisoned in the drop room or Hadrian’s Tower.

Not a single note of music, even in the ball scene, relieved them. This is an emotionally-gripping, intelligent production that everyone should see.

Professor Alison Findlay, Chair of the British Shakespeare Association

Promenade performances of Romeo and Juliet by Morecambe-based Attic Door Productions, will be performed today Thursday, (June 13), Friday (June 14) , Saturday (June15), Wednesday (June 19,) Thursday(June 20),

Friday (June21) and Saturday (June 22) at Lancaster Castle.

All performances take place at 7.30pm. To book tickets visit www.atticdoorproductions.co.uk/ or call 01524 419486.