Continuing the outdoor theatre theme from the last post, it's time for Taking Flight theatre's annual outdoor Shakespeare production. Starting in the lovely Thompson's Park in Cardiff and going on to some of Wales' most beautiful parks and castle grounds (oh and even one in Bristol this year!) the annual Taking Flight Shakespeare tour would be a delight simply for the backdrop, but there's much, much more magic involved.
This year is the turn of the classic love story Romeo and Juliet, where the ill-fated lovers are given a 1960s twist. Set in Verona College (and Verona Ladies College) the warring Montagues and Capulets show their rivalry across the schools (and an annual boat race!). The performance moves around the outdoor space, the performers guiding the audience and often engaging with them, making everyone feel a part of this version of ‘Fair Verona’.
Everyone feeling a part of the production is key to Taking Flight’s ethos, an inclusive theatre company-in terms of both audience and performers. This means that D/deaf actors are a part of the performance, as well as disabled actors, and the performance is fully inclusive for the audience with both BSL interpretation and audio description. This isn't the kind of 'add on' inclusivity that audiences might expect, inclusivity is part of the performance. Audio description becomes a narrative device, with Georgia Periam and Ania Davies becoming ensemble characters and very much a part of the narrative while providing audio description. And while BSL interpreter Sami Thorpe provides simultaneous translation for scenes, she too is very much a part of the story. Meanwhile on stage Juliet and her Nurse (Stephanie Back and Roger Hudson) converse in BSL, while her Romeo (William Ross-Fawcett) attempts to learn in order to woo his Juliet. The inclusion of these accessibility elements brings out new elements of this familiar text and breathes new life into the story.
The school and 1960s backdrop makes for a youthful energetic backdrop to the story. Adapted so that music, movement, audio description and sign interpretation mingle seamlessly with Shakespeare’s original text. The adaptation is a credit to director Elise Davison and it is an energetic engaging version of the classic text. While the inventive use of the outdoor space and the wonderful costumes and design created by Rebecca Davis, transports an audience firmly back to 1963. The addition of musical accompaniment by the actors gives a real ‘Swinging 60s’ feel to the performance.
The actors embrace their roles with relish, from the comedic turns from Arthur Hughes and Sam Bees as Mercutio and Benvolio (not to mention Hughes' memorable turn as Lady Capulet) to Paul Henshall being suitably foreboding as Friar Lawrence and Lord Capulet. The ill-fated couple themselves bring a youthful innocence and enthusiasm to the role, and are completely believable as a smitten high school pair. There is also real sense of the actors working as a company, and this takes the audience into the world of the performance and along with the actors in what can be both a challenging environment and challenging text.
This version of Romeo and Juliet is inclusive in not only the additions made via BSL and audio description, but also in that it is a wonderful adaptation of Shakespeare’s text that everyone will not only understand but enjoy. What for other theatre companies are ‘additions’ for inclusivity are integral to the performance, and are what make this version so exciting, engaging and enjoyable. Taking Flight once again are re-imagining both what Shakespeare looks like and what inclusive theatre looks like.
Romeo and Juliet is a great introduction to Shakespeare for both young old (and anyone in between). If you’ve never seen an inclusive performance or inclusive theatre company I urge you to see this production and re-define what you think that could mean. Most importantly, if you want to see some great Shakespeare, performed by an exemplary company in some of the most beautiful venues in Wales (and Bristol!) this summer, Romeo and Juliet is the production to see.
For more information on Taking Flight and their work please visit:
Tickets can be bought via the Chapter website http://www.chapter.org/taking-flight-theatre-romeo-and-juliet