Brighton Fringe 2009
Romeo and Juliet
Venue: Preston Park
A free open-air production of Romeo and Juliet presented by The Pantaloons, in Preston Park. This is an inventive and lively version of the classic tale, with plenty of improvisation and audience participation. The company gathered a large crowd of all ages and everyone whether six or sixty seemed to delight in the verse as much as the custard pie gags.
This outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet takes place in Preston Park by the Clock tower. The Pantaloons arrive with a cart and various boxes of props and costumes. In the tradition of travelling players, they are here to entertain us with a tale from Shakespeare. The crowd is a very mixed bunch and there are a lot of families with young children. My initial reaction is that, ‘it’s free, it’s a tragedy, its Shakespeare, so they probably won’t stay’. I am proved to be very wrong.
After a song and a few gags, we are cleverly eased into the verse and the opening prologue, and before we know it are immersed in the story. The Montague’s and Capulet’s have been feuding for years and continue to battle- in this case mainly with cricket bats and sticks. Romeo meets Juliet; they fall in love and, as is clearly pointed out in this version, lust. They marry in secret, but their plans to be together fade when Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt in a brawl, (I think with a screwdriver this time rather then a cricket bat.) Romeo runs away, Juliet feigns death, a message is sent to Romeo. It doesn’t get there. (This messenger is particularly stupid and goes to Manchester instead of Mantua.) Without giving it away- it ends badly for all concerned, including Christopher King, the audience member cajoled into playing the role of Paris, who never gets to kiss the fair Juliet, let alone marry her.
If you are a member of the ‘Shakespeare Police’, and baulk at the idea of liberties being taken with language, if you frown at the purity of the text being sullied by modern references, and you believe a tragedy should be a tragedy and nothing else, this is not for you. However if, like me, you enjoy a jolly good romp around with ‘the Bard’, with some very funny modern references, some excellent off the cuff comments and bawdy audience participation, this is definitely one to look out for. The tale is told in a highly entertaining and imaginative way, and the young and energetic cast handle the twists and turns of plot, their multi-roles and the noise of passing aeroplanes with joy and ease. There are some lovely moments where the actors slip very naturally out of the verse into modern prose then effortlessly back to the original and also some amusing explanations of what exactly Shakespeare meant by particular lines. Although the comedy is refreshing, I would have liked it to have eased off before the inevitable tragic end. The cast would have been perfectly capable of changing gear, and the audience were in their hands and would have been happy to go wherever they were taken.
The audience loved this show, and the children particularly seemed transfixed. I think shows like this are really important because they allow people to relish the stories and enjoy the language of Shakespeare in a relaxed and informal environment. I applaud the Pantaloons for the inventiveness, and the sheer joy and vigour that fuel their production of Romeo and Juliet. If you missed them in Brighton, they will be travelling around various summer festivals with this show and with Twelfth Night. Look out for them.