Romeo and Juliet
Guildford Shakespeare Company, in association with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford
This ambitious and dedicated company, formed in 2006 by its Artistic Directors Matt Pinches and Sarah Godran, is not content to rest on its critically acclaimed laurels with outdoor productions restricted to the summer season. This year, with a view to becoming a year-round producing theatre company, they have come indoors for the first time with their first tragedy and, bringing theatre back to its roots, the venue is the Holy Trinity Church at the top of Guildford High Street.
The setting is magnificent and, being a site-specific company, they have adapted aspects of the play to fit the surroundings. The Prologue is presented in a sing/song chant as if beginning a church service, every inch of the available space is used to the full including the centre and side aisles giving the audience a sense of involvement, while the flower-bedecked pulpit becomes a perfect balcony for Juliet to dream of her Romeo.
In this excellently cast production the two leads could not look more perfect for their roles. Ellie Kirks Juliet is a beautiful child - on the brink of womanhood but nevertheless an indulged daughter who pleads for her Romeo as if for a new toy, while Christopher Kinnestons handsome woebegone Romeo sighs and is inconsolable as the love of his life - Rosaline - will not notice him. With the inconsistency and fickleness of youth, how quickly he changes at the first sight of Juliet. I have often wondered how long that love would have lasted if death had not got in the way.
In this very large building the acoustics are not kind to the performers and vocal coach Sarah Stephenson is working on a special technique to overcome the problem. By and large the cast succeed well, especially James Sobol Kelly who, as Friar Lawrence, enunciates his speeches of wisdom and reason with perfectly paced clarity.
Each year the company constantly surprise and delight with their unique interpretations inspired by the surroundings, and for this occasion, in keeping with the age and style of the church, the play is set in the Regency period with some beautiful costumes designed by Lucy Wilkinson, and there is a great deal of very impressive and energetic sword play directed by Philip dOrleans - a particularly courageous undertaking in view of the proximity of the audience.
The nine-strong cast, full of youthful energy and enthusiasm, carry the story along at a cracking pace, most noticeably by Tom Peters as Mercutio - a swaggering young man-about-town and described by Romeo as A gentleman that loves to hear himself talk and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month. How true - he doesnt draw breath!
The rest of the cast are equally impressive - Julia Glass is a regal Queen and a comical Nurse, Thomas Eyre glowers as the revengeful Tybalt and simpers as suitor Paris, David Davies is a stern but loving father and Pinches and Gobran take the roles of peace-loving Benvolio and manipulative Mother respectively.
Very beautiful and appropriate music, some composed specifically for this production, is provided by musical director Mary McAdam, building up tension in the sword fights and lyrical for the enchanting ball scene beautifully choreographed by Aidan Treays. Interesting shadows and silhouettes are thrown onto the curtains hung from the carved altar screen, but one word of warning to the players - be careful to avoid gaps or you will dazzle the audience with light rather than with your personal brilliance.
Juliet finally, with heartrending cries of pain, dies on her bed, a tombstone, or is it the altar - sacrificed to the feud between the warring families and appropriately beneath the churchs crucifix.
So much to admire and enjoy - it would be a tragedy to miss it!
Playing until 10th February.
Tickets and information from the Box Office on 01483 304384 or www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk
Reviewer: Sheila Connor