Manchester Theatre Awards

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

Star Cross'd

Ian Kershaw - based on Romeo and Juliet
Oldham Coliseum company
Alexandra Park, Oldham
12 July 2012 to 22 July 2012

Romeo and Juliet in a park? In Oldham? In the wettest summer on record? Are they mad?

No doubt the same thoughts went through director Kevin Shaw’s mind during the build up to this production - but he needn’t have worried.

The people who go to see Ian Kershaw’s specially-written Shakespeare-in-Oldham adaptation - which gives us Romeo and Juliet’s Capulets and Montagues as rival family gangs, Asian on the one hand, English on the other - will be prepared for anything the weather throws at them.

And that attitude brings an audience together as rarely before, in a sort of wartime, we’re all in it together spirit that is both excitable and forgiving. 

Not that there is too much to forgive: you won’t visit the tale of Robbie-O and Judama (Adam Barlow and Anjli Mohindra) for the Shakespeare but for the novel experience, and the company throws everything into the mix as the crowd follows the action around the rather attractive landmarks of Alexandra Park, from park gates to lakeside. 

There are colourful dancing girls, a lake deathbed, a lantern-lit funeral procession, a brass band to accompany the audience as it walks, dancing, singing and many other little tricks.

We open on extended scenes that see the two factions before and at the Capulet ball, as “Tyb” (Guy Rhys) warns Robbie-O and Ben (Matt Connor) away from Judama. The police (WPC Escalus - Mina Anwar) keep order, setting everything in context - though Romeo has rarely made use of a ukulele or sung pop when wooing before, to my knowledge

As the evening moves on, culturally-divided Oldham takes second place to Shakespeare’s story, suitably and heavily cut to fit the delightful settings.

Friar Lawrence becomes “Loz” (John Elkington) an ageing hippie; Paris - Capulet’s (Ian Aspinall) preferred son-in-law - becomes young businessman Parvez (Sushil Chudasama), and so on, and the evening turns to one of lovers parted by tragedy rather than culture. 

Performances don’t count for much: it’s more about speaking up and hitting the mark than thrilling acting, but the two leads make a charming couple.

Those who think of the story as romance not tragedy will be pleased by the ending - though the almost pantomime routine perhaps sets the wrong tone. 

Even in bad weather Star Cross’d is an experience; in good weather it should take on an even more enjoyable tone. Perhaps a park show every summer?

Reviewer: Paul Genty

Comments

Comment by Alan Hulme

I caught it on the Saturday matinee a week or so on from Paul, by which time the show was proving a huge hit with audiences, mostly, so I'm told, audiences new to a Coliseum production, not however featuring many Asian faces in the one I was with. So, not hitting that mark, even though, as the play several times reminded us, Alexandra Park is very much a recreation area for the Asian community.

Whatever, the show itself is an exceptionally well-judged entertainment. It isn't high art, and rightly so in the circumstances of outdoor performance. Instead, it goes for broad brush strokes and more comedy than the Bard envisaged and it works.

Outstanding also is the organisation of the whole experience, from the welcome at the gates, to the box office arrangements, to the expert marshalling and, in particular, to the convenience of the interval provisions. Top marks for all of this and for recognising that looking after the audience in practical ways in these circumstances is such an important part of the experience.

I gather this first venture outside four walls has been such a success for the Coliseum that they are seriously considering making it an annual affair. I hope so.

 

Comment by David Upton

As newcomers to the open-air artform, and given the vagaries of staging such a production, the Coliseum might have played safe. But never underestimate native grit.

This was a spectacular triumph on so many levels that - like Alan says - you can only hope it spurs them on to more such outdoor adventures.

Whilst it would have been tempting to offer some time-honoured, family-friendly script taken off the shelf, they commission local TV writer Ian Kershaw to extensively re-work Romeo & Juliet; recruit dozens of enthusiastic performers from across their multi-cultural community to augment a professional cast of eight; and even dared stage the whole story smartly across that community’s culturally-sensitive backdrop.

Kershaw has had a lot of fun with it all, and it hits the audience mark so many times with witty and often wicked local references.

It’s neatly paced out, over two and a half hours, at six locations around the scenic splendour of the park. The location also throws in a few dramatic moments of its own, with several theatregoers at a Saturday evening performance querying whether the heron perched on a bridge above the lake was real or not!

You certainly won’t find one in the original story . . .

Then again nor would you find a full brass band, an Asian dancing troupe, equally well-drilled street dancers, a community choir, and a host of other mostly-young performers reflecting the town’s diversity.

Splendid entertainment reflecting massive credit on everyone involved.