This isn’t a sponsored post. BrumHour was invited to see Romeo and Juliet by Paperback Theatre.
For Brum Radio’s Interval Theatre, Dave Massey spoke to George Atwell from Paperback Theatre about Little But Live‘s Festival featuring Romeo and Juliet. Listen here:
By Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/Elle_Lawson
Please note this production contains depictions of suicide. (Its Romeo and Juliet)
Romeo and Juliet from Paperback Theatre at Moseley Park
Covid-19 has nearly annihilated the arts in the UK, with a wavering future ahead of it. Little But Live festival is one of the first theatrical events to occur in the Midlands, and even the country as a whole, with socially-distanced seating in Moseley Park (one of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings inspirations). Actors wear masks when in close proximity, the world’s most famous love story has physically isolated figures, and the audience are boxed into their own pens to watch the show together. Clearly, we’re in a new world.
The last time we were at a theatre to review a production (on 16th March), we weren’t allowed inside the building and the audience huddled in crowds on the doorstep, the staff inside were containing turmoil. Boris Johnson had advised against performances going ahead, without legally closing the theatres. No one knew what to do. Eventually, we were told to go home. There wouldn’t be a performance that night, that week or indeed for the next six months.
But still, a world where we look backwards: the last show I saw in a theatre was Six, the musical of Henry VIII’s wives, and Paperback’s opening show of their festival is one of the most beloved plays of all-time. In a time of chaos and pain and grief, it’s clear that audiences are nostalgic for a better world and wish to return to the plays they love, evident in the political turmoil of the last few years even before Covid-19 ran rampage.
Paperback Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet clocks in at just over one hour, keeping the play short and sweet enough for an ideal day out in the park. Directed by Lucy Bird, four actors make up the entire ensemble, whizzing through roles effortlessly and distinguishing between them with great care, especially evident in George Attwell Gerhards and Charis Mcroberts‘ astonishing range of accents. If you had any preconceived notions of the eponymous couple, Shaun Hartman’s Romeo and Abigail Greenwood’s Juliet shatter them completely. Any archaisms are scrubbed clean, with Romeo and Juliet instantly defined as isolated dreamers, plugged into their music that pulls them into the dream world they wish for.
It’s a perfect portrayal of youth: constantly yearning for something more. They are perfectly matched as soppy, earnest romantics, besotted with each other at first sight, although this production strips away most of the angst of teenage love – you don’t feel the physical pangs and aches of this romance, but its enthusiasm and freshness is a rewarding sight. It feels more like a comedy than a tragedy even before the deaths, the overflowing personas helping to carry the characters out to the physically distanced audience. If you’re a theatrical masochist with the urge to go and cry for your heroes, this isn’t the production for you. It won’t break your heart but it will make you smile.
Surely the most unmissable aspect of this show is the setting: Coventry Cathedral donated their Chapel of Many, an installation designed by architect and Coventry University lecturer Sebastian Hicks, to Paperback Theatre for this festival. The structure is a round stage that echoes down the ages back to the original Globe Theatre, made up ingeniously of wooden folding chairs that the audience can also sit on. Shakespeare’s characters often gaze through the permeable boundary of two worlds at the little o – The Globe they would perform in – and there’s a poetry to these characters falling in love in a replica of where it all began.
Audiences clearly think so too, because in a time where leaving the house carries a palpable risk, a play that is over four hundred years old is still selling out. The arts may be swept under the rug by the government, but it’s what we’ve all been living for in lockdown.
Tickets to Romeo and Juliet are SOLD OUT. Paperback Theatre’s Little but Live‘s three day mini-festival is at Moseley Park until Sunday 20th September. Tickets are still available for other socially distanced events at the festival here: paperbacktheatre.com/littlebutlive
Eleanor Lawson presents and produces Interval Theatre Tuesdays at 3pm on Brum Radio.