It was looking dubious, to say the least. Torrential downpours never make for particularly enjoyable al-fresco theatrical experiences. We later discovered that this little shower was equivalent to the entire rainfall of July occurring in the space of about twenty minutes on what should have been a peachy August evening.
Nevertheless, we persevered. The Creation Theatre Company has been running for fifteen years. Proving that you don’t need a conventional theatre to put on a good show, this production of Shakespeare’s most famous play took place on the roof of Oxford’s Said Business School. Tonight’s performance was extra-special, as it was in aid of Oxford charity, Helen and Douglas House, who provide respite and end of life care for young people and their families. With such a worthy cause at stake, we were willing the rain to come to an abrupt end, which, miraculously, it did.
And so with minutes to go, we made our way outside. It was just as well the rain had stopped, as for the next two and a half hours the cast ran, jumped, danced and tottered in five-inch stilettos across the damp concrete stage, a display of their abilities in itself.
The play began in the courtyard with the angry Montagues and Capulets locked in battle. As always with Creation Theatre performances, it’s about bringing a new lease of life to the surrounding landscape, and this they did with aplomb. We made our way to our seats (we had come prepared with seat cushions) and the show continued. The talented pairing of actors Ben Ashton and Benjamin Askew, Benvolio and Mercutio respectively set the stage alight with their boisterous wit and energy, as they cheekily chastised Romeo and even planted a kiss on Nurse’s lips. The production did well to be irreverent at appropriate times, and lean more towards a classical adaptation at others, not to mention the hilarious addition of the Nurse’s piercing Yorkshire accent. Director Charlotte Conquest and her cast manage to inject laughter and action in what is often described as an overworked play.
Dance plays a prominent role, particularly in between scenes and during the masquerade ball. With African Beats and Drum and Bass permeating the Bard’s tragic love story, the play seems fresh and above all, original. It is clear that Movement Director, Aidan Treays has worked extensively with the cast as the space on stage and in the surrounding areas is used to a maximum. Romeo and Juliet’s final night together after his exile is masterfully executed and convincing, with contemporary dance techniques and physical theatre lending a hand.
The overall production offers Shakespeare with a twist and achieves this with resounding success. Delivered with striking impact, the play is thoroughly enjoyable and provides satisfaction for those altruistic among us with a raffle for Helen and Douglas House. The night raises £3000 for the charity, with orange-t-shirted volunteers encouraging us to give more to this worthy cause. We leave smiling, with that ubiquitous warm and fuzzy feeling testament to what a brilliant night it has been.