Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare
Feelgood Theatre Productions
Heaton Park and Hall, Manchester
25 July 2018 to 12 August 2018

Now that’s what I call a balcony scene. Red streamers point upwards toward the top of the Grade 1 Listed Building, Heaton Hall, where Juliet (Nia Coleman), spot-lit by a setting sun, addresses her lover, Romeo (Ned Cooper). Caroline Clegg, director of Romeo and Juliet, certainly knows how to stage a scene that demonstrates why the return of Feelgood Theatre to Heaton Park is so eagerly anticipated.

The production pays tribute to the history of the location. The Egerton family, owners of Heaton Hall, liked to stage their own plays and aren’t going to let the fact they are now ghosts get in the way of tradition. The guest due to play Romeo is indisposed, but Ned Cooper, a passer-by from the 21st century, finds himself pressed into taking the role.

Promenade productions tend to rely on gimmicks to distract the audience from the physical discomfort and inclement weather that often blight such plays. Caroline Clegg prefers to use imagination. Pop songs are sung in the style of Shakespearean ballads (Nia Coleman has a tremendous operatic voice and it is not wasted). Benvolio is played by, and as, a woman with a flirtatious Sophie Coward seeming to have more than a little interest in Romeo.

But Feelgood do not substitute novelty for quality; the cast speak the verse beautifully. Ned Cooper allows a maturing of Romeo as the boisterous character adopts a more regal stance, hands behind back head high, as he addresses his friends. As is often the case Nia Coleman's slender but steely Juliet steals the show with a performance that ranges from a comedy double act with her nurse (Nicola Jayne Ingram) to raging heartbreak.

The most striking feature of Romeo and Juliet is, however, a pair of 'Spirit Dancers' (Kezia Coulson and Ryan Upton on the company’s Internship Programme) whose silent dancing enacts the passion of the lovers, shadowing them and reflecting the feelings that Romeo and Juliet dare not articulate. Kezia Coulson’s solo, lit only by candles, dancing tip-toe in Juliet’s tomb, is a highpoint of the evening.

The production attracts audience members of all age ranges from very young children to people old enough to wonder, having sat on the ground, how best to get up. The promenade aspect works best in Act One where scenes are broken into short sequences allowing plenty of movement. The death duel that concludes the first Act occurs deep in a wonderfully atmospheric shady wood. The need to squeeze in as many scenes as possible limits the extent to which the audience can wander around in the less successful second Act, but there is still the chance to walk through Heaton Hall which acts as a gothic setting for Juliet’s tomb.

The tragic story of Romeo and Juliet is an ambitious choice for a promenade production but Feelgood Theatre overcomes the potential distractions and exploits the setting and beautiful weather to provide a memorable and moving version of Shakespeare’s classic.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

Comments

Comment by Kevin Bourke

Ambition, passion and adventure have long been bywords for Feelgood productions and this version of Romeo And Juliet lives up to their extraordinary heritage as well as the new heights they've hit since their welcome return to Heaton Park a couple of years ago. If anyone can pull off their "Field Of Dreams" scheme to build a permanent theatre and associated facilities in the park, then it surely has to be Caroline and her equally enthusiastic supporters. Apart from the performances singled out by David, incidentally, I was rather taken with Toby Hadoke's Friar Laurence and, without giving too much away, there's a tremendous closing scene with, for once, the weather playing along and a massive moon shining down from the sky. Fireworks too, which is always good!

 

Comment by Robert Beale

Feelgood make what to others would be constraints and frustrations into creative inspirations - it's jaw-dropping to see what they come up with. I'd endorse everything David wrote, and give a further great big credit to musical director Thomas Hopkinson, who's turned the cast into an extraordinarily effective open-air chorale. Nia Coleman and Ned Cooper are remarkable discoveries, too.

Comment by Alan Hulme

I saw what, surprisingly, is the very first matinee performance in Feelgood's almost a quarter of a century of existence. Tentatively slipped in to this year's schedule as a result of requests from the company's loyal audiences, I would expect many more such in future years.

The audience I was with clearly very much appreciated the practical advantages of a daytime performance and though there is a very distinct difference in the atmosphere of the piece itself compared with evening shows (and no firework finale), it isn't all loss, in fact as the three hours traffic of the lawns and woods wend their way along it is more relaxing to know that one won't have missed the last bus or tram.

Otherwise, agree with my colleagues above and underline in particular Robert's praise of the vocal abilities of the cast, at their most impressive during the scene inside the hall.