THE all-male touring company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men is back in Wiltshire at Breamore House on 26th August with its 2023 touring production of the world’s favourite and best-known love story, Romeo and Juliet, already seen at Salisbury earlier in the tour.
It’s a massive undertaking and one that annually delights audiences – more than 400 people went along to Rack Close in the cathedral close on Saturday night. This Peter Stickney production, which is timed at two hours including the interval, is Shakespeare judiciously cut-and-pasted, so any students of the play might be a bit surprised at the running order of some of the speeches. But the editing serves to speed the action on its way, cutting out some of the less effective verbiage and retaining all the highlights. The cast of seven plays all 19 characters – one man in his time plays many parts, as the Bard says – and the actors also sell the programmes and help with the audience seating.
But once the bell rings, on go the Renaissance clothes and then we are transported to the sultry streets of Verona, where the scions of the feuding Montagues and Capulets are roaming, looking for excitement, love and trouble. Romeo Montague is deep in the dumps because Rosaline doesn’t return his affection, so it’s only natural that his friends want to cheer him up by taking him to a party. The fact the party is in the Capulet camp is a problem that can be overcome with the help of masks. We know the rest. Romeo and Juliet take one look at each other, and that’s it.
This energetic and entertaining production is all about action and intrigue, and it’s performed, as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, by men. Every year the LC’s Men recruit new actors eager to enhance their skills. in this company, whose productions always begin and end with song. This year’s opener is John Dowland’s Come Again, skillfully arranged for the seven voices.
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate James Burman plays the lovestruck Romeo, with the sparky Cameron Percival as his Juliet. Craig King is particularly impressive in the role of the nurse – perhaps the only part that has not suffered from the editor’s red pen. He is funny, sweet, lovable and entirely convincing. Hal Geller’s nuanced performances as Lady Capulet, Peter, Balthasar and the Prince of Verona demonstrate his versatility.
Enzo Benvenuti (who sounds the part!) captures the helpless confusion of Friar Laurence. Edward Bartram gives keenly contrasted performances as Mercutio and Lord Capulet, and Lewis Bruniges is the aggressive Tybalt and the determined Count Paris.
It’s another great evening of open-air theatre, hugely enjoyed by the packed audience.
Photographs by Jack Offord at Glastonbury Abbey and Fanny Charles at Salisbury’s Rack Close.
Footnote. The comments of other audience members are sometimes surprising. Who’d have guessed, for example, that noted TV archaeologist Phil Harding apparently didn’t know the story of Romeo and Juliet, or that one self-proclaimed “serious” Salisbury theatre-goer thought Danny la Rue would have made a better Juliet, because he would have “bothered” to wear a wig?