William Shakespeare at Williamson Park, Lancaster:
Romeo and Juliet
Saturday 17 August 2003, 7.30pm.
It was a wise choice to play Romeo and Juliet - Shakespeare's biggest weepie - last. Director Richard Main evinced some of the most beautiful and sensitive verse speaking I have heard in many a long year - on stage, on screen and on the box. Never have I been so keenly aware of the relentless brutality that underpins the whole play - even the humour has violent undertones, and there are sinister aspects to the amorous side too.
But the sheer passion and power of the sexuality and tenderness of the doomed couple came through and clenched the throat. Body language, too, was used both evocatively and provocatively throughout. The star-crossed titles roles were played with just the right amount of everything - including eroticism - as their personal yet public dramas ufolded Di Caprio and other 'big' names I have seen fade into mediocrity against delivery of this calibre.
Again, the music, movement and masquing contributed well to the overall pace of the piece, with the exception of the continuing and irritating keyboard 'muzak' which was totally superfluous during 'rant' and the wonderfully-staged fights. But the 'pianist' closed the first half with her wonderful rendition of "Come away, Death" which more than compensated.
Have you ever seen Juliet's Nurse smoking a pipe? An armed Friar Lawrence? A camp Tybalt? These were but three of the touches that made this an extraordinary production. And yet again the thoroughly competent and versatile cast included a young performer of exceptional talent.
19-yrear old Alec Fellows-Bennett (Mercutio and other minor roles) has the visual comic gifts of Harpo Marx (including the hair), diction to shame Noel Coward, and the movement and agility beyond the scope of many more mature actors. What he does with his tongue defies rational description, and opens up whole new worlds of - um, sorry. His vocal range demonstrates a complete understanding of the (often bawdy) text, and he is destined to go far. Dukies - and the Manchester companies if you see this - book this man now.