The words of Shakespeare filled Norwich Cathedral’s cloister as the Bard’s best-known love story took to the stage.

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The opening night yesterday of this year’s Shakespeare Festival, in association with Eastern Daily Press, saw the Lord Chamberlain’s Men present their production of Romeo and Juliet in the stunning surroundings.

Mark Puddle, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men creative director, said: “We were delighted to open the festival and also to be closing the festival this Saturday. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men is a recreation of Shakespeare’s original company, performed with an all-male cast, because females were not allowed on the stage in Shakespeare’s time, and with Elizabethan costume, song and dance.”

He said the cloister was a superb setting for Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers and the warring Montague and Capulet families.

“The cathedral was actually here when Shakespeare was alive and that’s a great start, and being inside the cloister surrounded by all the history is just fantastic,” he said.

Review: Romeo and Juliet

The lips as breath’s doors is just one of the startling images in Shakespeare’s greatest love story, and the song and speeches of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men bring the tale of Romeo and Juliet vividly to life.

From a burnished metal stage in the centre of the cathedral’s cloister, the company’s compressed cast entertain with a mix of bawdy comedy and high emotion.

Jonathan Bullock’s entrance as Juliet plays on the transvestism of the traditional casting, but as the play darkens he gives a rich account of the doomed lover. Will Haddington lends Romeo a slightly too manic edge – there’s something of the Russell Brand about him – that leaves a synthetic aftertaste, though the character does have an inherent fickleness.

Exuberant Mercutio is given full force by John Sandeman, playing up to the saucier elements of his dialogue, and James Beedham is a stoic and dignified Friar Laurence.

David O’Connor is a delightful Nurse, very much channelling a pantomime dame, but also switches comfortably to play Montague and the Apothecary to boot. Nicholas Limm copes well with his three straight-bat supporting roles.

The production takes a few liberties with the text – moving the prologue a little into the action and curtailing some of the minor scenes – but keeps the essential poetry intact.

Andrew Normington’s direction is pacey and vital, including songs, dance and music into the action.

There is a lot of poison in the play, but this production is a goodly summertime tonic.

James Goffin

Will Haddington, who plays Romeo, added: “It’s a wonderful space – very pretty with the spire in the background, a marvellous backdrop for our set. It is one of the most beautiful venues we have performed in.”

About playing Romeo, he said: “It is a massive responsibility to take on one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters and I feel very privileged.”

He said he aimed to bring out a bit more of an “edgy” side to Romeo.

“He’s often portrayed as a bit of a damp cloth whereas I like to think of him as a strong young man who wears his heart on his sleeve.”

This is the sixth Shakespeare Festival at Norwich Cathedral. Jon Holland, from Norwich Cathedral, said: “We’re delighted to get this year’s Shakespeare Festival under way.

“Ticket sales have already exceeded last year and with not one, but two of the UK’s premier touring companies on show, this year’s festival promises to be our most successful yet.”

Romeo and Juliet is on Saturday at 7pm. There is limited ticket availability. Tickets £19 (£16 concessions) – call 01603 630000 or visit www.cathedral.org.uk/shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing is also being performed by Shakespeare’s Globe tonight and tomorrow at 7pm – both these performances are sold out.

Are you putting on a special show? Email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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