Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare
Guildford Shakespeare Company
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

Ricky Oakley and Lucy Pearson Credit: Matt Pereira
Lucy Pearson and Harriot Thorpe Credit: Matt Pereira
The Masked Ball Credit: Matt Pereira

Within the confines of the magnificent Holy Trinity Church, we are transported to Verona with some very beautiful choral singing (composer Mary McAdam) before, with a swift change of mood, a vicious and potentially lethal brawl is taking place in front of us.

The arrival of the Prince breaks up the fracas and death is threatened if there is any more trouble with this feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, a threat ever-present, but emotions run high, along with levels of testosterone, in these young, spirited men and they must defend the honour of their families.

Co-producer Matt Pinches points out in his programme notes that there is a lot of violence within the script of Romeo and Juliet and this young, energetic and enthusiastic company are quite excellent at violence. With the help of fight director Philip d’Orleans, sword fights are frighteningly and dramatically exciting, extremely well executed (I’m with Mercutio on the puns!) and the deaths are very realistically performed, but the main focus of the play has to be the young lovers and the mix-up of messages which leads to their deaths.

Romeo is in love with Rosaline, a character who never actually appears, but it is an indication of Romeo’s nature that the moment he claps eyes on Juliet he switches instantly from one girl to another, seeming to be in love with love rather than the real thing, although Ricky Oakley gives such passion and vehemence to his declarations of love that I could be persuaded his feelings are real.

Jack Whitam and Rikki Lawton do sterling work, each with two very contrasting characters. Whitam as Mercutio is full of life and vigour and constantly teases Romeo, parrying his declarations of ‘unwavering’ love with crude sexual connotations while his Montague is calm and dignified. In a similar context, Lawton’s Tybalt is headstrong and always ready for a fight while as Paris (Juliet’s father’s choice for her husband) he is upright, honourable—and rather pompous.

A beautifully presented, rose-coloured masked ball is where the lovers first catch sight of each other and where, to a pulsating rhythm, Stuart Winter’s intricate choreography has them almost meeting—then whirled apart as the dancing continues, the music part melodic and part discordantly—a dramatic warning of where their love might lead.

Director Charlotte Conquest catches all the small details as well as the bigger picture. Sarah Gobran as Lady Capulet is regal as a wife but an uncaring mother, leaving her daughter’s upbringing to Nurse, yet she risks a blow herself protecting Juliet from the wrath of her father while Nurse (superbly and earthily portrayed by Harriet Thorpe) is truly caring for her charge, yet not above a little flirtatious dalliance with the young men—on her own terms.

I cannot imagine a better Juliet than Lucy Pearson. She has every nuance of her role exactly right, all the pangs of teenage love, the excitement, the longings, the panic when her lover is late tinged with anger that he is keeping her waiting and Shakespeare’s clever twist of words she delivers so beautifully, seeming to be agreeing with what has been said while meaning the complete opposite. It’s intriguing, too, watching her grow from deferential daughter in a male-dominated society to a woman almost managing to take charge of her own destiny.

Pity it all ends in tears of regret both from the feuding families and from Noel White’s Friar Lawrence who feels responsible. A lesson to all, and one well worth watching.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor