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