IT TAKES a shrewd and canny eye to spot raw talent and Stafford Festival Shakespeare’s (SFS) production team have proved they have it in spades.
Director Peter Rowe, producer Derrick Gask and casting director Debbie O’Brien struck gold when they found Dwayne Walcott and Poppy Drayton for the title roles in Romeo and Juliet which opened at Stafford Castle last night.
Most people would opt for a low profile, mid weight part for their first acting jobs but not this pair.
Both fresh out of drama training they were thrust centre stage in the Bard’s tale of star-crossed lovers fated for tragedy – no pressure then.
Walcott, who recently graduated from the Italia Conti Academy, exuded an easy charm which magnetised the female members of the audience while Drayton, a recent graduate of London’s Arts Ed, brought innocence and freshness to her role. Together they produced a scorching on-stage chemistry.
But the real tests of any player are the strong emotions of grief, anger and desperation and the debutantes stepped up to the mark and more.
Of course they had the luxury of being cushioned by a classy and experienced cast including Leah Bracknell who put in a superb performance as Lady Capulet.
Nicola Blackman brought the house down with her hilarious and raucous characterisation of the Nurse and James Haggie has that rare comedic gift of being able to make people laugh without saying a word. His Balthasar, Romeo’s servant, was the perfect foil for the Nurse and together they delivered some laugh out loud moments.
Graham Kent’s Shakespearean and West End pedigree shone through in the scene where Capulet brutally admonishes Juliet for her refusal to marry his choice of suitor – the hapless Paris (Thomas Judd).
Peter Manchester’s swaggering yobbish Mercutio was menacingly convincing as the knife-wielding gang member who met his end at the hands of Dan de Cruz’ equally threatening Tybalt.
The heavyweight cast was matched by a production crew which included Hollywood choreographer Francesca Jayne whose credits include Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland.
Set against the backdrop of the historic Stafford Castle SFS continues to set the bar high and it must surely be the best outdoor Shakespeare production in the country.
The first opening night sellout audience in the history of the production lapped up the pre-show entertainment courtesy of the musicians and dancers, giving them a rapturous ovation followed by another at the end of the show.
Romeo and Juliet has also already outsold the last two years shows and in anybody’s book Shakespeare for a tenner (starting price) has to be the bargain of the year.
It runs until Saturday, July 14 and tickets are available by calling 01785 254653 or at www.staffordgatehousetheatre.co.uk.
All in all a flawless performance all round. Tickets are flying out of the box office so early booking is advised for what could deservedly be one of the most successful shows in the history of SFS.