Review: Romeo & Juliet at Stafford Castle

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Tim Ford

Produced by Stafford Gatehouse, its manager Tim Ford takes the reins of Director in this 30th Anniversary production. Under his leadership, Romeo and Juliet is a nod to its traditional setting of time and place. However, with hints of contemporary music and including themes that beat the test of time, he creates a sort of Bridgerton meets Shakespeare love story you can’t help but be drawn into.

Underpinning the show is Ivan Stott’s beautiful score performed by a small number of the company. It starts upbeat and weaves popular music into the Capulet’s Ball, but then changes to intense drumbeats and bellowing sounds that amplifies the tension of the piece impeccably well.

Morgan Brind’s set design towers high to create a bliss Italian city that carefully centralises the ruins of Stafford Castle into it. The transition to both Juliet’s chamber and the Capulet Tomb works seamlessly. While the weather was ovecast with some rain that eeriely fell almost on cue, its clear to see that on a bright summer’s day the stage will capture the falling golden sun beautifully. Combining the set with Brind’s equally elegant and rich period costume design its a visually stunning production.

Matt Clutterham’s lighting design also brings to attention the ruins of Stafford Castle. Clutterham’s carefully chosen colours brings the castle into the set itself while masking it when a more intimate sense of space is necessary. The stark contrast of the sunrise on Juliet’s wedding day to the events that follow are a testament of how this production uses lightning to immerse your into the unfolding tragedy.

Romeo and Juliet may be known as a romantic tradgey, but Ford’s direction pulls you off guard with the amount of comedy in the first half. Whether it’s through the playful jokes of youthful banter between Romeo (Tom Lane), Benvolio (David King-Yombo), Mercutio (Robert Hamilton) and Bathasar (Tim Chapman) or the slick wit of The Nurse (Gill Jordan), all seems well in the sunbathed setting of Verona.

It is Hamilton’s Mercutio that gets the most laughs who acts part jester, part ray of hope and joy. It is therefore no surprise that when he meets his demise the tone suddenly changes. Carefully coinciding with the natural night drawing in, the shadows of darkness surround the stage lead by the harrowing cries of King-Yombo’s Benvolio. It’s not clear whether it be friendship between him and Mercutio or something more, but his distress is a momentous, powerful moment that pivots the production into a much darker direction both metaphorically and visually.

It is during this where in a blink of an eye rage succumbs Lane’s Romeo and drives him to continue towards his fate. Set in the fourteenth century, but being watched in a world with its own battles of hate, loss, anger and discrimination, its a stark reminder that setting Shakespeare traditionally can still resonate with audiences as strongly today as it did back then.

Engulfed in a volient rage and against a backdrop of an intense drumbeat and the cries of Benvolio, Tom Vaughan’s Tybalt and Lane’s Romeo are locked in a stellar duel directed by Dr Ian Stapleton. This battle closes the first half with a bold visual that marks the real time sunset. Just as Stafford is drawn into night, Vernona’s succumbed by a red mist of rage.

Ford’s direction is at its best when it focuses on these pinnacle moments of imagery. It’s also seen with the ghostly introduction of Romeo and Juliet, each carrying smoke canisters during the prologue and the closing moments of the show where focus gets drawn to a statue of an angel. The angel was once defiled to be used in a battle at the start of the production and has watched over since, but now stands as a focal point for hope and unity.

From the moment Romeo first lays eyes on Juliet, to the moment they first meet, you root for this beautiful union. More than that, you also see how each character develops and the impact their love has on each other. With Lane’s Romeo, you see how Leslay’s Juliet helps him mature to a being a courageous lover devoted to his wife. Whereas with Leslay’s Juliet, you see how she starts as a love swept teenager, but develops into to a young woman brave enough to take on the shackles of both her father’s expectations and her family’s feuding history.

Celebrating 30 years of Shakespeare at Stafford Castle, Ford’s production has roots in tradition while still resonating with today. With death defying sword fights full of passion and fury, this intense tale of Romeo and Juliet has you gripped throughout. Set against the backdrop of the ruins of Stafford Castle and complete with a fantastic company of performers, this striking production of Romeo and Juliet comes alive as the sun sets and the troubles of Vernona take hold.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Three Coins

Value for Money Comments:
A top quality unique production with a large cast and fantastic set. While cheaper tickets were available for early bookers this rating is based of the current pricing at £40 for adults and £37 concessions. For more info on the value for money rating, click here

🎁This production was gifted in exchange for a fair and balanced review 🎁

One thought on “Review: Romeo & Juliet at Stafford Castle

Add yours

  1. Great production, sadly performed throughout in a deluge of rain.
    My heart bled for the actors who, in the great showbiz tradition, ‘carried on regardless’ to their absolute credit. They must have been about as uncomfortable and rain-soaked as they could be but never once gave a hint of it.
    I loved the way the the Castle was lit in sympathy to the story and was in full view to the audience, something which hasn’t happened for a while.
    I’m lucky enough to live 5 minutes away from Stafford Castle so I’ve seen most of the Shakespeare productions, including a previous ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and this one really was a stand out.
    Great cast, cracking set, brilliant sound and lighting. Worth every penny for the ticket.

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