Romeo and Juliet for Oxford Prospect

Romeo and Juliet for Oxford Prospect

Blenheim Palace / Eating Out / Europe / Events / Family / Going Out / Oxford / Oxfordshire / Review / Theatre

Romeo and Juliet at The Rose Theatre, Blenheim Palace.

A review by Julia Gasper

The Shakespeare season offered by the relatively new Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre Company in the grounds of Blenheim Palace is an exciting new venture for Oxfordshire that offers a wonderful theatrical experience in an unrivalled setting. Now we can have all the pleasures of a Shakespeare production in an authentic Elizabethan-style theatre without having to slog up to London and back. Instead, enjoy the experience of a specially created little Elizabethan village where thatched stalls sell refreshments and hearty victuals before the performance and again during the interval. It is complete with benches, tables, a pond, a model bear and miniature knot-garden.

Inside the Rose Theatre

It is amazing how the “pop-up theatre” itself has been constructed in a couple of weeks in front of the palace whose familiar outline is visible from the Elizabethan village. Indeed, if you want to make a day of it and visit both the palace and the theatre you can buy a joint ticket. Otherwise you can just opt to go to one of the four productions running this summer: Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and Richard III.

Inside, you will find comfortable seats and you are in no danger of rain as the roof is mostly covered over. The acoustics are good and the view from our seats in C area was excellent. For those on a budget, there is the option to sit in the pit with no chair provided – as at the Proms.

Romeo and Juliet

This production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Juliet Forster is full of energy, action, comedy, and high spirits, combining tradition with some fresh ideas. The setting is a minor Italian rural town in the 19th century, and we are not denied the pleasures of costumes and accessories. No churl is here to remind us that Shakespeare never mentioned a balcony! A balcony dominated the stage set, rightly as it has become an iconic part of the tradition of this play. The opening scenes are boisterous and the prologue is delivered in the middle of the brawl. Emilio Ianucci’s portrayal of Romeo is original: in the opening scenes he is neurotic, gauche, far too intense, and easily overwrought which makes him something of a clownish figure. He is what American students would call a “goof”, mocked by his more sophisticated friends, a vulnerable adolescent rather than the ideal stage hero, though he gains in resolution towards the end. This was an insightful interpretation.


            Jonathan Christie shone as the witty, voluble and fantastic Mercutio, as quick with his sword as he is with his tongue. The fight scenes are well-choreographed so that the death of Mercutio came over as a clumsy accident, which it is, but the stabbing of the aggressive, bragging Tybalt (Jay Saighal) is a shock, showing Romeo’s dark, most frenetic side, and pivoting the play from comedy into tragedy.


            As Juliet, Ella Dunlop truly shone, presenting a heroine who is still a very young girl at the beginning, with the voice and gestures of a girl, but blossoms into an intelligent and passionate woman. The dancing at the Capulets’ banquet was bold and feisty, making the scene of the lovers’ first meeting appear all the more gracious and idyllic. Juliet grew more ardent, excitable and impatient in the balcony scene and in the scene of her awakening at dawn with Romeo, in the double bed that her parents have thoughtfully provided for her. The Capulets always do that. After her father commands her to marry Paris, she delivers her damning judgement on the previously likeable nurse (Nicola Sanderson), with vehemence. In her scenes of despair and gloom, her voice changed to reflect the changing mood, and altogether this was a fine performance. The culmination of the play, inside the Capulets’ tomb, with Juliet lying on a catafalque, dressed in white, created a fine macabre atmosphere and made a chill run round the theatre. It is a pity that the website does not feature pictures of either of the lead actors.


            Doireann May White gave us a female Benvolia, with an Irish accent, who changes into breeches to gatecrash the Capulet feast, showing underwear that would have been there in the 19th century but not in Shakespeare’s time. Grace Cookey-Gam gave us a rather head-mistressy Princess Escalus and Anna Northam (well-known for her TV roles) made a cameo appearance as the apothecary. “My poverty but not my will consents.” Bonnie Baddoo more surprisingly gave us a female Balthazar, servant to Romeo. It is right that women should have a chance to play a wider range of roles, and Shakespeare would have included more women if the law in his time had not barred them from the stage.

The text has been less cut than in many productions, and is delivered with insight and care that never lets us forget that we are hearing poetry. All in all, this is a production that is well worth seeing, and will be remembered for a long time.

                               Julia Gasper. July 17th 2019.

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