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REVIEW: Shakespeare’s love story returns to Reading’s Abbey ruins this summer

THE MOST famous love story ever written was like a breath of fresh air as Progress Theatre stepped into the spotlight for one of the biggest events in the Thames Valley arts scene.

The Reading-based theatre company officially opened its open-air Shakespeare production on Wednesday, July 14.

Following on from 2019’s King Lear, the creative team has set up camp in Reading’s Abbey ruins for its 10-day run of Romeo and Juliet. 

The company has performed open-air Shakespeare in the Abbey Ruins – and Caversham Court Gardens – since 1995. 

The play tells the story of two youths who battle to keep their love alive in the middle of a two-family rivalry. 

The classic production, with its tragic ending, has been a hit ever since it was first performed in the 16th century.

The ambience in the setting of the Abbey ruins made it the perfect location.

In terms of lighting, there was a row of floodlights that were set up behind the audience, which really added to the atmospheric mood while the sun began to set shortly after the interval.

It was great to see director Tony Wernham had added in some modern language semi-improvisations, which blended in well and didn’t interfere too much with the original script.

One actor who stood out was Beckie Moir, playing Nurse, who added such great elements of comedy which can sometimes be overlooked in a heart-wrenching play like this.

Moirs’ humour complimented John Goodman’s interpretation of Friar Laurence, whose presence also lit up the stage.

The pair both made sense of the text and really committed to their character throughout, even when they were entering and exiting the performance space.

Goodman’s added commentary at the start and between some scenes was a bonus, in particular, his speech about the history of the ruins just before the last act was a lovely touch. 

It was refreshing to see all the costumes greatly complimenting each other, thanks to Helen Wernham, with each family wearing a different colour to help distinguish who’s who.

As this is an open-air production, audience members will need to provide their own low back chair or hire one from the theatre for a small charge. 

Blue Collar is providing a bar selling craft beers, Prosecco, wines, spirits, soft drinks and bar snacks, while picnic boxes can be reserved. 

Tickets prices start from £16.

Romeo and Juliet is running until July 24 at the Reading Abbey Ruins.

For more details, or to book, log on to progresstheatre.co.uk

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