I saw Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet tonight at the Victoria Baths in Longsight, Manchester. After the energetic and unforgettable promenade through Ancoats in Angel Meadows earlier in the summer much was expected from this 2nd site specific work from HOME and the first to be directed by A.D. Walter Meierjohann. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish although I didn't much care for the standing for most of 3 hours. That minor quibble apart there were some exceptional stage pictures and passionate performances pretty much all round. The staging in the iconic disused public baths is though the real star of the show. It’s a supremely inventive use of the three spaces in the architectural gem. The word genius comes to mind. We press types began standing in one of the pools and watching the action on a platform above where the Montagues and the Capulets confronted each other having emerged from the changing cubicles on either side of the pool. This was a memorable opening scene. It was just such a possibility which Walter Meierjohann told me had sold him on the venue in the first place when he visited it on one of its regular tours. We were then hurriedly shifted as the actors were chased into the area and had to stand higher up looking down. As well as great energy from the leads and daring fight scenes the singing and dance work from the chorus was equally impressive. I felt that Alex Felton and Sara Vickers as Romeo and Juliet did convey the gangly overpowering nature of a first love against all the odds the course of which does not run smoothly. A shout out though for Ncuti Gatwa as Mercutio who was beguiling both in the violence and the jockeying before. In a performance redolent with sensuality and sexuality I heard almost everything he said. This was particularly fantastic as I missed some of the verse due to the tiled acoustic and the cleverly hidden mics and speakers did not quite match the clarity you get from a theatre. This was not too much of a loss as the characterisations were so broad that you could always follow what was going on. The finale in the filled swimming pool as Juliet’s Mausoleum had an almost religious feel to it. It was very beautiful, powerful and like a ritual. I'm not sure the Eastern European underworld vibe added much though to the impact although it was an interesting idea. Though I was sad by the end I was unexpectedly moved even more strongly earlier when in a wonderful coup de theatre the young lovers swung back and to on a trapeze suspended in the middle of the pool. That was the single most memorable image for me about young love and how overwhelming it can be with its sudden highs and lows. It was breathtaking and ardent and the moment when the emotions at the heart of the tale broke through for me. Sorry if this is a spoiler so you are warned but there never was a tale of more woe than Juliet and her Romeo! Check for returns as it’s a sell out but it's worth it if you can get in. You won't ever see a production like this in Manchester again. You can believe the hype. It’s that good. Total Chapeaux to Walter Mieerjohann and his team. A jaw dropping game changing achievement and it sets the bar for drama dazzlingly high from this point. I’m already looking forward to Walter’s next production and you can be sure I’ll bring you all the news on HOME as it moves towards its £25 million new home in Number One Manchester next spring.
PHOTO OF SARA VICKERS AS JULIET AND ALEX FELTON AS ROMEO IS COPYRIGHT GRAEME COOPER