Lovers: Romeo and Juliet meeting up in a Somerset garden

Romeo and Juliet. Compton House, Axbridge.

Under a darkening sky and beneath the walls of Compton Manor in an enclosed garden a bitter quarrel took place between the warring Capulets and Montagues. Played out in front of a large audience, seated on picnic chairs, Taunton Thespians staged a traditionally dressed version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Directed by Peter Norbury, the cast brought the story of the star-crossed lovers to life with just a lawn, some bushes and two gazebos for a set. In Juliet the production had a real teenage lover in the Pre-Raphaelite-esque Natasha Carter who at 15 looked and sounded the part with her flowing locks, while her Romeo (Ben Jordon) although a little older carried the heavy mantel of leading man with a surprising lightness since this was his stage debut. The lovers’ body language was perhaps not as close as one might hope but by the final scene they seemed to have warmed to their mutual wooing which did justice to their starring roles.

Fight: the Capulets and Montagues have anger management issues

Acting outdoors can be very testing for the most seasoned actor with the danger of rain, the sound of wind, distant traffic, sirens, barking dogs and passing helicopters. In this regard the cast did not come up short with excellent projection and very clear diction. It was a joy to hear the beautiful speeches of the tragic tale whether it’s the witterings of the Nurse or the strutting arrogance of Tybalt. Voice coach Christine Winter take a bow.

I certainly wouldn’t like to meet Maat Ward on a dark night. His young Meat Loaf look-alike Tybalt was spoiling for a fight from the off as he brushed onto stage with his sword. Meanwhile Mercutio (Michael Gilbert) was less of the youthful free spirit and more aging rock star who delivered his pithy lines with the ease of man happy with a pint in his hand. Jack Ward as Romeo’s more sensible mate Benvolio was a classy affair with his Renaissance good looks and cloud of gloom captured in his face as things go from bad to worse.

Star: the Nurse played by Martine Davies makes an entrance

There were several more outstanding performances in what at times was an uneven production which was hampered by perhaps too wide a performing space meaning some delays in exits and entrances. With a voice of one part arthritic hip, one part dyspeptic ulcer and one part cider vinegar Martine Davies excelled as the gossipy chatty Nurse, while Peter McGuire as the Prince had the air of an exhausted Somerset supply teacher apparently at the end of his tether with the antics of the citizens of Verona who behaved worse than a classroom of disruptive third formers.

Duncan Wright as Lord Capulet was excellent value as the over active dad-in-denial head of the household desperately trying to keep tabs on his daughter. It was open to question as to whether he was on his third or fourth wife as he had married a much younger Lady Capulet (Charlotte Newman) who carried off her role as Juliet’s mother with considerable class. Brian Lewis gave Friar Laurence an element of sleekness with his golden locks and confident body language. Not the bumbling priest but more a metropolitan agony aunt.

The production also featured the watchmen played with earthy tones and rustic movement by Katy Whitaker, Joe Greenslade and Dave Levi, while soulful Patric Maine was the Chorus, Piers Gorick was a suitably youthful Balthasar and Rowan Evans as an unfeasibly deep voiced Paris who claimed in the programme he originally wanted to play Juliet suggesting his next role should be as a panto dame.

Entrances: the play begins with a dust up in the streets of Verona
Entrances: the play begins with a dust up in the streets of Verona

Des Pollard as the pompous Lord Montague, Nina Clark as his stately wife completed the cast of a production that has been enlivening the open gardens of Somerset for the last few weeks. A testament to the skills of the director who brought slightly more than two hours of traffic across the stage – to mangle the words of the Bard.

Harry Mottram, Four Stars