A busy little hamlet on the edge of Eastleigh in Hampshire, Bishopstoke is a place I have ventured many times in the past. The Peter Ustinov comedy Romanoff and Juliet one of those plays I have been aware of for more years than I care to remember, but never actually got round to seeing. I knew that it was set in the capital city of the smallest country in Europe, somewhere between the Soviet East and an American stronghold in the west, and that the play is very loosely based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - but title kind of gives that away.
The usual pre-curtain theatre announcements are in an American accent, then repeated in Russian. A brilliant way to start, but a little long -winded by the time they got through everything they wanted to say.
The lights come up on a wonderful, brilliantly devised set with an opening scene featuring two horizontally-positioned soldiers 'on guard' playing a word game between before their General's arrival. He is in the same mind-frame as his minions, seemingly not bothered what is going on in the country - made slightly obvious when they mention they would only ever used blank rounds in their guns. The three of them open the play with plenty of humour.
Jon Morgan as the General and Neil Sharman and Adrian Barrett as the two soldiers, are nothing short of brilliant, reveiving many laughs – not only from Ustinov’s script, but also from their actions, expressions and visual comedy. These three are the main foil for the action of the play, and I automatically went into smile-mode whenever they came onstage.
With the three stooges still onstage, the star-crossed lovers enter and are equally wonderful. The pair also find lots of humour from Ustinov’s words but making them so much better with the use of well-timed expressions.
Kate Robbins is her usual magnificent self as Juliet, playing the part with great humour, as do all the cast. Paul Jones is the Russian ambassador’s son, playing the role it to a high degree. As Igor Romanov, I love the way everything always falls into place for this character - who expects nothing less. He finds the humour in every word and move.
Juliet’s parents, Hooper (Colin Carter) and Beulah (Katie Pink) Moulsworth are both well played, but Hooper’s accent started to irritate slightly by the end of the evening. Having said that, it's an accent I hear from a lot of Americans. Juliet’s betrothed, Freddie Vanderstuyt (Arthur Moore) gives a strong performance and really gets her teeth into the role.
On the Russian side, Igor’s parents Vadim and Evdokia Romanoff (Tim Ponsford and Angela Wallis) are also nicely done, their accents working beautifully. Ponsford’s anger is completely believable.
Marfa Zlotochienko (Emma Braggins) doesn’t have a big role, but when on she certainly makes her presence felt. Richard Bevis-Lacey as the 'Spy', is a revalation; a brilliant performance finding laughter from every scene.
Small but much-needed are the figures in the clock played by juniors Lola Barrett, Beth Bowers and Maria Gora. It's a shame the bell is placed too high, resulting in the figures always missing (even though the bell still sounds). Little things like this should might have been rectified before opening night.
Jon Morgan's striking set boasts the front view of a castle-style building with a central ornate clock with figures (aforementioned Bishopstoke Players Juniors) passing round it on the hour to strike the bell. The 'West' side would open up to show the interior on the American embassy when required and the same with the 'East' side for the Russian embassy. The set is very well-conceived and never once did I see any dodgy set-shaking you sometimes get with similar grand scale designs.
The whole show is well directed by Pete Burton. Great lighting from Barry Kitchen, with sound from JJ and Rachel Craig. The costumes are excellent and ideal for the production, thanks to Julia Foster.
Romanoff and Juliet is a very good play and well-performed in this production. The pace is great for the first two acts, but becomes a little pedestrianised during act three, causing it to labour a little. But I quibble.
I am looking forward to going back to Bishopstoke for their next production in September to see The Vicar of Dibley.