There is no greater, nor more ominous, setting for Shakespeare’s youthful tragedy than at the atmospheric St Martin’s Church in Colchester, where the Mercury Theatre Young Company perform Romeo and Juliet until Sunday 28th August. We’re transported to fair Verona as we step inside the old, redundant church, unknowingly choosing a side: Capulet or Montague, in this standing-only performance. From the timber-vaulted ceiling hangs pages from the Bard’s most popular play, whilst a series of small stages adorn the Gothic nave, with a balcony at one end. The set is simple, but rightly so as the cobweb-laden stained glass windows, huge, high ceilings and clever lighting provide a felicitous backdrop that needs little else.
The abridged play begins and ends with the tragic demise of the star-crossed lovers. Romeo, played by Peregrine Maturin-Baird, and Juliet, played by Ivy Dillon, drape across one another on a haze-filled stage as mourners place lilies at their feet. A gentle humming and haunting song ring out to set the fateful scene before the story has even begun.
Quickly transported back in time, we meet the Montague’s and Capulet’s in a rowdy brawl between the two sworn enemies, played out against a fast-paced instrumental soundtrack created by members of the cast. In the privacy of their quarters, we then meet Mia Wallis-Humm, who is exuberant and funny as Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio, teasing and consoling the young moper, Romeo, as he tells of his love for Rosaline.
The play moves quickly, though scene changes are seamless, with an ensemble of musicians and actors’ effortlessly manoeuvring the audience around the church in-between acts for a truly interactive 360º performance, where we the viewers are key to the smooth-running of the production. Maturin-Baird does well to encapsulate Romeo’s transformation as he becomes inflamed by love on first sight of fair Juliet, while Dillon captures the tremulous, innocent disposition of the young maiden. A naïve love quickly turns into a relationship doomed by family rivalry and violence as the defiant couple elope to marry.
A shower of red confetti denotes the tragic fall of key characters until the moment many of us have seen time and again is upon us to conclude the play, captured in a quietly subdued manner as an inconsolable Romeo sips on a vile of poison, unaware his fair love is soon to wake from her slumber.
A thoughtful production, the Mercury Young Company have done exceptionally well to breathe new life and vigour into such a well-known classic, performed in a wonderful public space, just as Shakespeare intended.
Click here to book tickets to Romeo and Juliet at St Martin’s Church, Colchester.
Images: Robert Day