By Danielle Farrow
Celebrating its 21st year, Shakespeare for Breakfast presents Romeo and Juliet: The Only Way is Little Venice. The prologue makes it clear that this is a romance across the divide of class and the various accents show it is also a divide of geography, with some northern sounds ranged against the (mostly) cut-glass posh pronunciation of the Capulets. As a slight niggle, there were times these accents, coupled with hilariously speedy delivery or very occasional too low volume, obscured diction, which is a pity for words this witty.
For this production is huge on charm, topical references, the use of music and song lyrics, audience participation, the inclusion of Shakespeare’s lines and ideas (sometimes from other plays and the sonnets too) and, in all, it is great good fun. Whether engaged in physical comedy, self-aware references or the pacy delivery of lines that mirror Shakespeare’s (though their rhymes and rhythms are often deliberately bad), this six-strong company keep their audience engaged and happy throughout – even / especially when utilising them for missing characters (and that famous ‘Queen Mab’ speech of Mercutio’s) or as part of the important action of sending the friar’s doomed message to Romeo by carrier penguin-pigeon.
Characterisations were all crystal clear, with much made of doubling up, and performers showed versatility and musical skills, entertaining with minimal props and only a ladder for set. Highlights include the balcony scene (without a balcony), a pseudo-French section, song lyrics as wedding vows and the tragic duel, but there are far too many amusements running right through the piece to mention here. The place of technology in our modern world was also mocked beautifully, and many celebrities and popular shows were skilfully referenced visually as well as verbally, only feeling slightly forced in a parade of wedding guests.
In among all this joyous mayhem, there was also Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet, surprisingly faithfully told, but in light form and not likely to leave anyone emotionally drained – though you may feel somewhat physically so from laughter.
Shakespeare for Breakfast is a fringe tradition for many, and this year’s production lives up to its reputation for being great entertainment delivered with intelligence and élan, and – of course – croissants and coffee (or tea).