The lips as breath’s doors is just one of the startling images in Shakespeare’s greatest love story, and the song and speeches of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men bring the tale of Romeo and Juliet vividly to life.
From a burnished metal stage in the centre of the cathedral’s cloister, the company’s compressed cast entertain with a mix of bawdy comedy and high emotion.
Jonathan Bullock’s entrance as Juliet plays on the transvestism of the traditional casting, but as the play darkens he gives a rich account of the doomed lover. Will Haddington lends Romeo a slightly too manic edge – there’s something of the Russell Brand about him – that leaves a synthetic aftertaste, though the character does have an inherent fickleness.
Exuberant Mercutio is given full force by John Sandeman, playing up to the saucier elements of his dialogue, and James Beedham is a stoic and dignified Friar Laurence.
David O’Connor is a delightful Nurse, very much channelling a pantomime dame, but also switches comfortably to play Montague and the Apothecary to boot. Nicholas Limm copes well with his three straight-bat supporting roles.
The production takes a few liberties with the text – moving the prologue a little into the action and curtailing some of the minor scenes – but keeps the essential poetry intact.
Andrew Normington’s direction is pacey and vital, including songs, dance and music into the action.
There is a lot of poison in the play, but this production is a goodly summertime tonic.