Playhouse manager Jo Potts said this week that there was nothing quite like live theatre and anyone who saw one of this week’s performances of the tragic tale of ‘star-cross’d lovers’ surely has to agree.
The Alnwick arts venue managed to secure Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare’s Globe last year – which was terrific – and brought them back again this year for four performances of what is perhaps the world’s most famous playwright’s most famous play.
For those who don’t know the plot, a violent street brawl between their rival families, the Montagues and Capulets, is the prelude to Romeo’s first encounter with Juliet at a masque ball. Despite this, and the fact Juliet has been promised to another, they fall in love.
But any plans for their future happiness are cruelly destroyed by renewed violence between their families and tragedy begins to unfold, leading to the death not only of two rival young men, but also the young lovers, just days after their wedding. Too late, their fate leads to peace between the two warring clans.
Possibly one of the few stories that doesn’t need a ‘spoiler alert’ before one divulges the plot, knowing the ending did not lessen the impact yesterday’s performance had on the audience, judging by the number of teary eyes by the end.
This a tribute to the power of the Bard’s verse, of course, but also the visceral acting by the small cast of players, who each had multiple roles, on a simple Elizabethan-style stage. There was no messing around with the setting or staging of the play; this was just top-quality, authentic theatre.
In contrast to some of the ‘heavier’ Shakespearean tragedies, Romeo and Juliet benefits from some lighter, comedic moments in the early acts and to this end, the star of the first half was Steffan Donnelly, as Mercutio, who brought a camp and louche cheekiness to the role. Sarah Higgins’ no-nonsense Scottish nurse was another highlight.
Mercutio’s demise (alongside Tybalt – Matt Doherty, who also provided a gentle touch of levity and humour as Peter) kicks off the tragedy and from here, it was Cassie Layton, as Juliet, who stole the show.
During some of her heart-rending soliloquies, you could have cut the Playhouse atmosphere with a knife. There is huge power in someone convincingly pouring their heart out just metres away.
The use of music to bookend the action worked well, particularly given the traditional staging, and showcased the diverse talents of the cast, while the effort which had been made with the choreography of the fight scenes certainly paid off.
Here’s hoping that the Globe’s forays up to north Northumberland become an annual tradition.