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Monday, 16 October 2017

Juliet and Her Romeo (Company of Ten)

Juliet and Her Romeo
Company of Ten, St Albans.
6th - 14th October 2017

Blogging isn’t what it used to be. Reckon I am fed up with Brexit, (in or out anyone?) and a flat season on the gee gees that has been awesome for its complete forgettability. And I have been up to my inadequate arms in decorating. Not me personally, merely supervising, but a friendly local professional who has been turning our house upside down. Not literally even if, with Storm Ophelia currently doing her worst, it seems like it. So that’s three excuses for dilatoriness and, given the non existent will, I could add in a few more. But I shall not bother, other than to say that a late discovering of Breaking Bad has dwarfed much else this autumn. Seriously addictive, especially for those who like well acted drama and moral dilemmas in abundance.

So it says something, a lot really, that I dragged myself off to Company of Ten’s Juliet and Her Romeo the other Sunday afternoon. I rather like the offerings they put in the studio and a Sunday matinee suits me fine. Welwyn’s Barn Theatre do them but they clash with my Saturday afternoon racing and it takes a combination of a must see play and dreary equine fare to tempt me out. The horses usually win, even if not in betting terms. And Dunstable Rep still resists this oldies route. I try to persuade but ears and deaf come to mind. So COT and the Studio are the occasional treat. London Wall was terrific, ensemble playing at its best in my sort of play, and Arthur Miller’s The Ride Down Mount Morgan almost as good and blessed with an exceptional lead in Andy Mills. I did not get the same vibes from this geriatric version of R and J but it was absorbing listening to the faithful rendition of the text and constantly admiring the skill and delivery of the actor portraying Romeo.

Geriatric? How rude. Misty red eyes are probably still blazing in defence. Was it that awful you say? Did it clunk until the wheels fell off? Did this reviewer fall into an afternoon snore? Banish the picture folks. I have no wish to be unkind. This production was literally, not theatrically, geriatric. Our Juliet and her Romeo are old folks in a care home. As are the Tybalts, Mercutios, and Benvolios. The Verona Care Home, no less. All very clever. And as director Angela Stone says in her programme notes, this adaptation by Sean O’Connor and Tom Morris gives ageing actors an opportunity most of them felt long past. They may not have teenage youth but they have experience.

It does not totally work, mainly because passions are naturally muted and anger diluted, but it had enough of old Shakespeare and his crossed lover’s tale to entertain and engage. And on Dennis O’Connell Baker’s simple but clever care home set and excellent evocative modern music it all gelled pleasantly enough. Graham Boon was absolutely superb as Romeo. I shall not guess at his age but I reckon the Winter Fuel Allowance has long been in his back pocket. But he invested Romeo and his lines with exquisite delivery and total believability. I got the feeling that he may have first played the part many moons ago. If not he should have done. No other performer seriously matched him but I had tons of admiration for Rosemary Goodman, stepping in for an indisposed Juliet at the last minute. An assured delivery which only rarely glanced at the book. Of the others Tony Bradburn was a pleasant enough golf club type Tybalt, albeit lacking in fire, Roy Bookham a bemused Benvolio, Andrew Baird an excellent trendy Friar Lawrence, and Jacqui Golding a no nonsense nurse gathering her care home charges like wandering sheep in need of penning. But the two supporting roles which stood out for me were Dewi Williams' engaging and disruptive Mercutio, beautiful rich voice and fun portrayal, and Peter Hale’s totally believable Paris. Mr Hale had little to say, a wandering dementia backdrop to the main drama, but he portrayed it with a realism which was disturbing.

So there you have it folks. If it all sounds a bit gimmicky, eighty year old Romeos, it probably was. But having seen Hamlet in a spaceship, a mafia version of Measure for Measure, and an all female As You Like It in my time, anything goes. If you don’t believe me tune into our dear old BBC. They don’t do much that spins my dramatic juices these days but they have a frivolous Shakespearian twirl with David Mitchell’s Upstart Crow. Do that and, seriously, anything, absolutely anything goes with our Will.

Roy Hall