Romeo and Juliet, Dulwich Park, London

By Paul Taylor
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:52

As Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe, points out in the programme, "theatre buildings are the newcomers in our theatre culture". Before the Elizabethans started creating custom-built edifices, the English experience of drama was of watching touring companies performing plays in a variety of venues.

And even when they were installed in their own theatre, Shakespeare's company continued to take shows out on the road. It's not just that it made economic sense (especially in times of plague and the enforced closure of the theatres in London), but the impulse to travel, Dromgoole eloquently argues, is "written in the genetic code of the actor". To mount a play in unfamiliar locations can be a way of discovering it anew.

This year, the Globe has resurrected the tradition and now, after a tour that has taken them from Glasgow to Cornwall, Edward Dick's production of Romeo and Juliet has arrived in Dulwich Park. It's a fast-paced, stripped-back, engaging account of the play that demonstrates another advantage of going out on the road.

There's an old theatrical joke – "Did Hamlet ever sleep with Ophelia?" "Only on tour" – which is, I suppose, a ribald way of saying that life away from home can produce a terrific company spirit. It's certainly the case here where, with tight, fluent team-work and much nifty doubling, the play is brought to muscular life by just eight actors.

The main feature of Anthony Lamble's witty design is a bashed-up, curtained camper van (a nice touch for a production that has been parking itself all over the country). In contemporary street wear (that is gradually overlaid with items of Elizabethan dress), the performers violently erupt from this vehicle at the start and we're pitched straight into an atmosphere of simmering feud.

There's a Cheek By Jowl feel to the way that Kidd creates a sense of urgent communal story-telling, with the characters forming psychologically expressive diagrams round the action and an impatient overlapping of the scenes.

Ellie Piercy's lovely Juliet pops up through the van's sun roof for the balcony scene with Richard Madden's boyish Romeo. That's typical of the charm and humour of the production, though there's also darkness and bite in its comedy.

Courtesy of some hilariously lightning on-stage changes, Eliot Shrimpton manages to play both nerdy, hectoring Friar and irritable, self-pitying Nurse – a pointed pairing that brings home how badly these meddlers fail the young couple.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments