Permanently Bard’s energetic take on Romeo and Juliet puts Shakespeare back where he belongs – in the beer garden of your local pub

Images by Kate Reynolds-Haigh (taken at The Links Tavern, Liphook)
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For their fourth year touring Fuller’s pubs with Summer Shakespeare, Permanently Bard present his best known tragedy in a beer garden, to great success.
 
Supported by Fullers, Permanently Bard bring Elizabethan theatre back to its spiritual home – the beer garden. This production is Shakespearean in spirit, with a welcoming and permissive atmosphere, encouraging people to take photos and tweet, and involving them in the show to create a raucous, festival atmosphere.
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The use of the space was impressive, demonstrating the company’s experience with the format. The first act was largely wonderful and rightly treated as a comedy, with a gender-swapped Benvolio (Josie Catherine) adding a new dimension to the early relationships.
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Capulet (Gareth Fordred) commends himself well, equal parts Bruce Forsyth and Oliver Reed. Friar Lawrence (Richard Fish) handled a sudden downpour with aplomb.
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Juliet (Lucy Southall) was a highlight, played adeptly and with a light touch; instantly likeable and engaging, youthful but never childish, spirited but never petulant.
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The show is not without faults, and it feels safe to say that this production is not one for purists. Ad libs were used to communicate thoughts already in the text, while actions sometimes conflicted with it. Whole exchanges of wit were rushed through, while tense scenes had their energy sucked out by long pauses.
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Most disappointingly, the stakes felt under-served in key scenes. Just annoying was a drum, bursting any tension that bubbled up, so prepare yourself for that.
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I say ‘prepare yourself’, because Permanently Bard’s Romeo and Juliet is still an entertaining night out with a committed cast. There is enough charm, charisma and atmosphere to overcome any shortcomings.
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Amid the fun, it still feels like the company wants to tell Shakespeare’s story, and this is a refreshing and recommended alternative for those who may have been brow-beaten by a more po-faced production in the past.
Permanently Bard’s Romeo and Juliet will be touring Fuller’s pubs in and around London until 12 September. Go here to check all the dates.