Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare
Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester

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Samuel Awoyo as Romeo and Joelle Brabbant as Juliet Credit: Mark McNulty

Summer has arrived in Grosvenor Park, Chester. You can tell that it’s summer as us Northerners are tough enough to wear shorts and flip flops under our waterproofs. However, no matter the weather, nothing can detract from what is surely one of the most beautiful theatre settings imaginable and this year, Shakespeare’s timeless tale of tragic love kicks off the season with a real splash.

Director John Young has taken the inspired decision to set the action in 1950s Verona, a time when change locks antlers with tradition and where family and violence are the overpowering influences. With the advent of the 'teenage' phenomenon and a wealth of era-defining music and fashion, where better to consider the tale of two 'star-crossed' young lovers?

The space to perform at Grosvenor Park is a double-edged sword. The options for stage sets are extremely limited, yet the charming environment and endless possibilities for imaginative presentation and audience reaction more than compensate for that. It also helps that, once again, a vibrant and engaging cast have been assembled to deliver the performances.

Samuel Awayo as Romeo and Joelle Brabban as Juliet are a couple who will banish the clouds and bring sunshine into our lives throughout this excuse for a summer. Awayo is cool, witty and easy to warm to while Brabban is enchanting and wilful as the teenage lover. She can provoke laughter and elicit sympathy with a mere turn of her head or a knowing look to the crowd. Her scenes with Nicola Blackman as Nurse are spontaneous, hilarious and, one imagines, totally off-piste. Either way, the increasingly wet and bedraggled audience lapped it up and huge credit to both actors, and the whole cast, for delivering such a bewitching performance during a torrential downpour.

Charming as it is, there is an undoubtedly vicious side to this production and Kaitlin Howard deserves huge credit for her direction of some brutal skirmishes and a special mention for Haylie Jones, whose depiction of Mercutio’s death, especially in this weather, would have many a Health and Safety inspector reaching for their notebooks. If glowering menace is your thing, then look no further than Oliver Nazareth Aston’s Tybalt, who positively oozes threat.

This production is an unmissable cocktail of love and hate, liberally flavoured with bouts of hilarity. Once again, Grove Park Open Air Theatre has delivered a delicious outdoor menu to savour. As for the weather?

“You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks! “

The rain won’t break us in this city, not with entertainment like this.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings