Ian Kershaw & William Shakespeare
Alexandra Park, Oldham
While Lancaster's Dukes Theatre has a year off from its annual open-air production, Oldham's Coliseum Theatre stepped neatly into a gap in the summertime market. And while they have may stolen a little of the regional thunder, remarkably—given this summer—they also got clean away in the rain department, with all 10 days of performances going ahead as planned.
Someone was clearly watching over them...
Taking advantage of being temporarily homeless, until their refurbished venue opens in October, they pitched up with this promenade performance in Oldham's showcase Alexandra Park. It's something they have been promising themselves for several years.
As newcomers to the artform, and given the vagaries of staging such a production, they might, therefore, have played safe. But never underestimate native grit.
This was a spectacular triumph on so many levels that you can only hope it spurs them on to more such outdoor adventures.
Whilst it would have been tempting to offer some time-honoured, family-friendly script taken off the shelf, they commissioned local TV writer Ian Kershaw to extensively re-work Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet; recruited dozens of enthusiastic performers from across their multi-cultural community to augment a professional cast of eight; and even dared stage the whole story smartly across that community's culturally-sensitive backdrop.
So the warring Montague and Capulet families run rival taxi firms, and white Anglo Robbie falls for Moslem Judama. Even her forthcoming arranged marriage, to Parvez, fits so squarely into such a plot... whilst the famed balcony pleading becomes a desperate message into a mobile phone.
Kershaw has had a lot of fun with it all, and it hits the audience mark so many times with witty and often wicked local references.
It's neatly paced out, over two and a half hours, at six locations around the scenic splendour of the park. The location also throws in a few dramatic moments of its own, with several theatregoers at a Saturday evening performance querying whether the heron perched on a bridge above the lake was real or not!
You certainly won't find one in the original story...
Then again nor would you find a full brass band, an Asian dancing troupe, equally well-drilled street dancers, a community choir, and a host of other mostly-young performers reflecting the town's diversity.
The music demonstrates the same breadth of experience—everything from Rodrigo to a rousing Queen anthem at the final ‘curtain'.
Splendid entertainment reflecting massive credit on everyone involved.