Pirton Players' latest production turned Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on its head with the play set in a retirement home and the elderly residents divided between private and public wards.
Juliet (Lou Sadler) and her Brother Tybalt (Tom Gammell) are comfortably living out their final years in the comfort of private rooms while her daughter (Victoria Manford) is desperate to marry her off to the wealthy but doddering Paris (Paul Ribbans) to help pay the fees.
Antagonism between the patrician Tybalt and his detractors Mercutio (Mark Steinhardt) and Benvolio (Sue Kennedy) boils to the surface and into the mix limps the aging lothario Romeo (Phill Brown) impotently pining for the young orderly Rosalinde (Rebecca Turner), a love we know will never be requited.
When Romeo and his rowdy mates crash a "private patients only" tea dance he is at once captivated by Juliet. The beautiful rendition of this first meeting in the the mouths of older people was even more moving than the young lovers we are used to, and the first half closed with the lovely image of Romeo and Juliet dancing together, seemingly transformed, the shackles of age cast off.
The course of true love however doesn't run smooth. Secretly married by the home's chaplain (Mark Savage) the two lovers' future is jeopardised when Romeo kills Juliet's brother and is banished to the Mantua high security wing by the home's abusive doctor (Mark Sadler). Juliet and the Chaplain cook up a plan to fake her death but unaware of the plan Romeo kills himself believing Juliet to be dead. The story plays out to its tragic conclusion with Juliet also taking her own life, the two lovers denied even the short time together their advanced ages might have allowed them.
It was fascinating to hear from more mature actors words usually reserved for adolescents, the narcissism of the lovers' speeches seemingly as suited to old age as to youth. Whole speeches made new sense, for instance when Juliet says "Gallop a pace, you fiery-footed steads", she speaks with the fervour of someone with no time to waste and we realise that helpless romantic love is as appropriate for the elderly as it is for the young.
Director Deb Bassnett is to be congratulated on an imaginative and innovative production, played along the centre of the space. From the moment we entered the hall we were transported to the Verona Care Home, complete with a sing-song for residents who then took their places in the audience.
A ticking clock between scenes reminded us that time is running out, not just for the lovers but for all the residents of the home. Indeed the whole production could be seen as a comment on how the elderly are treated - as the Nurse (Heather McGaw) reminds us "don't look away - we'll all be here someday".
[Review by Anton Jungreuthmayer]
Director - Deb Bassnett
Assistant Director - Loretta Concannon
Producer - Stella Turner
Juliet - Lou Sadler
Tybalt - Tom Gammell
Ms Capulet - Victoria Manford
Paris - Paul Ribbans
Romeo - Phill Brown
Mercutio - Mark Steinhardt
Benvolio - Sue Kennedy
Doctor - Mark Sadler
Nurse - Heather McGaw
Friar - Mark Savage
Rosaline - Rebecca Turner
Mantua Orderly - Trevor Clark
Care Home Residents - Fizz Gibbs, Graham Gibbs, Dud Gentle, Loretta Concannon, Paul Kerswill, Gena Edwards, Penny Picken, Ann Peters & Valmai Guess