I’ll always applaud Unmasked Theatre for their creative vajazzle towards theatre. Waking up sleepy Crawley, this theatre company offers local actors an opportunity to take to the stage, tour with fellow actors and build upon their portfolios.
Loving their experimentation and determination, Pip O’Neill and Luke Ofield are the
driving writing force behind this company and work incredibly hard to cast, direct, promote and even act within their theatre productions. I guess you could say I’m emotionally attached and would make this “review” biased, but I’ll always hold the candle for Unmasked Theatre (so don’t blow it out!)
They invited me to see their final performance of Romeo and Juliet at my old college’s theatre space – The Hub. Reminiscing my college days and woahing at the new build, I was walking down memory lane and wanting Diddy – Dirty Money “Coming Home” to be the soundtrack for this grand occasion.
Civil unrest and rioting sweeps the streets. The old orders are afraid of the anarchists, who preach change and violence. The future is uncertain and fear is rife. The Capulet family are old money and old authority and despise the new troublemakers of the land. The Montague family are new wealth and dream of revolution and tirades of change in all forms. All the while poverty and the angst in the city is reaching bursting point. Love is fleeting, violence is inevitable.
Unmasked Theatre, 2016
We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet so I’m not going to bother with the storyline. However, I was concerned how Unmasked Theatre were going to approach this ultimate love story without appearing too cheesy or snorting up love hearts. They approached the tale with caution, but gave the production a few brave creative shots, including an interesting snogging threesome expressing Romeo torn between his love for Juliet and being a Montague (yes you read that right!)
Throughout the play, the steel skeleton frame stands as the centred holy site on stage and the haunting acapella of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” cements the tragedy. Acting as a stripped back, contemporary twist to Romeo and Juliet’s famous balcony scene, it visually separates the Capulets from the Montagues. Like playing on top of your creaky bunk beds, it is Juliet’s playground as she races and clings onto the sides, awaiting Romeo.
Many characters climb on top or underneath the structure, but it provides great height for some scenes, especially when Juliet kneels and debates taking the poison and the ghost of Tybalt (Ali Storm) haunts from above and behind. Like crucifixion, Tybalt stands on the hills of steel and the light bathes both him and Juliet into the darkness with a whiff of temporary death.
Alysha Finch-Parsons plays Juliet with a gentle, angelic delivery, so softly spoken to capture Juliet’s innocence and childlike nature. Rarely breaking free from the Capulet chains, I saw glimpses of Juliet wanting to seek a moment for her female independence. However, Kayley-Ann Raiton plays Juliet’s Nurse, or surrogate mother, returning Juliet back to her giggling ways. The Nurse’s roles of duty become blurred and may confuse on whether she was a best mate or a parental figure towards Juliet. When Juliet refuses to obey her father and marry her suitor, the relationship between the two women changes and the Nurse’s love for the Capulet household stays true.
Paul Mills and Claire Anscomb play Lord and Lady Capulet as pretty cold hearted parents towards their emotionally expressive daughter. They both echo the tragic circumstances of child exploitation, which still shamefully exists today, but karma bites them with guilt and grief from their daughter’s grave.
Chris Whitmore adopts a fascinating, eccentric quirkiness for his role as Romeo, rejecting a strong headed masculinity. It was an unusual interpretation of a loveable famous character, which gave Whitmore ownership of his Romeo. He bounced well with Mercutio (Ben Baeza) and Benvolio (Charlie Frances) to reveal a playful performance.
Teaming up and jesting each other further, I loved this trinity of lads invading the serious scenes and triumphing naughty schoolboy chaos. Ben Baeza stole the show with Mercutio’s comical endeavours and his shrieks, squeals and innuendos earned the audience giggles. Injecting shots of energy, Baeza hollered his friends into action and created an exciting stage presence. Whitmore’s Romeo and Frances’ Benvolio joined his comical timing and the trio performed with thumbs up class.
Known for their pretty silent roles, Hannah Hoad handles the task of playing Lady Montague and Rosaline (niece of Capulet). Her downplayed and stylish entrances and exits should be praised though as she provides an additional service for both houses.
Tying the play’s wild loose ends, Richard Evans-Thomas plays two authoritative characters, Prince Escalus and Friar Lawrence. His command halts the characters’ frenzy and establishes common sense and calmness. With a touch of wisdom, his traditional monologues dismembers the tragedy, insanity and stupidity of two bickering families.
Living in Crawley, I understand the town lacks the flames of inspiration for young people so Unmasked Theatre responds to this distress signal and shouts “Hey! Jump into our lifeboat” for those who have a passion for theatre. This company will learn as they go – they will discover their limitations, party to their successes and achievements, and build upon their cast and production team. Unmasked Theatre own a strong identity brand within the local community. Local news and theatres are starting to support and recognise them, especially The Hawth Crawley.
Unmasked Theatre don’t disguise themselves as they are always open for change, take creative risks and ask for feedback on their productions. Being able to communicate and interact with this responsive theatre company, I will always wear my theatre blogger mask for Unmasked Theatre.
Read more about Unmasked Theatre here
Big thanks to Pip O’Neill and Luke Ofield