It is a brave writer who takes liberties with a Shakespeare script, let alone re-writes the ending. But the rich rewards of such risks are to be found in the improbable setting of a municipal park in Oldham.
There are almost 70 productions of Shakespeare playing across the nation this summer, but don’t let Ian Kershaw’s depiction of a turf battle between Oldham’s white and Asian youths – challenging and celebratory in equal measure - pass you by.
Kershaw’s reworking of Romeo and Juliet, delivered in the surrounds of the Alexandra Park to which the Oldham Coliseum has relocated while undergoing refurbishment, opens with crackling tensions of the Asians and whites.
That’s precisely how it was here 11 summers ago, when some malign school-gate incidents were the precursor to riots which left race relations on their knees in a bloodied, bruised Oldham. Kershaw has not been unflinching in his willingness to pick up the threads of that chaos for the Coliseum before and the re-telling of the love story again reveals his ear for the language, the humour and the sense of the place.
Oldham's star-crossed lovers are, naturally enough, the Asian daughter and the English son of Oldham's rival taxi firms - Capulet Cabs and Montague Private Hire. And after the hooded gangs of either side have postured and prodded each other near the park gates, Kevin Shaw's community production takes us on a joyful promenade involving so many people and so many different groups of dancers, actors, musicians that there is an immediate sense of how the streets of Oldham have been healed.
Like wandering minstrels, the Delph Brass Band lead the journey of discovery from set to set, gathering up curious bystanders as they make their stately progress to scenes at the Edwardian bandstand, palatial orangery, ornate, cast iron painted bridge and bowling green pavilion to boating lake. Shakespeare’s language is interspersed with the Oldham vernacular. Comic moments meld with tragic, as Asian dancers weave among hoodie-clad street gangs.
And at the end of it all, a floating, candle-lit finale on the lake where an audience is urged to plead with Adam Barlow’s impressive Romeo “don’t do it”. We discover that we have the power to affect the ending, just like Oldham – a town rising back to its feet with the help of writers like Kershaw.
A production to lift the grey clouds that have blighted every outdoor event of this summer and one which gives Shakespeare back to the people, just as he might have intended it. The sense of inclusion includes the price. Children's tickets are a flat £5, too. If it's wet, you get a free bin bag to sit on!
Until July 22. Box office: 0161-624 2829