What if all those summer productions in Oxford college gardens down the years (not to mention the RSC) got it wrong? What if the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet didn’t really end up dead?

That’s the premise of Ben Power’s play A Tender Thing, at The Theatre, Chipping Norton, is staging as its latest in-house production. As the curtain rises on John Terry’s production, it’s immediately apparent that the couple have indeed lived on and settled into an apparently rather impoverished old age: Alex Berry’s set has them at home in a dusty-looking house, filled with junkyard furniture and a large collection of table lamps.

Waists have thickened, and joints have tightened – witness a rather stiff dance they launch into to the strains of an old gramophone record.

Juliet talks of dreams, while Romeo thinks that she just talks too much. However, Romeo does enthuse over the beauty of Juliet’s eyes while she does a crossword.

The play uses Shakespeare’s text, but shuffled into a different order, and shortened. Lines from his sonnets and a song from Twelfth Night have been mixed in too. Particularly affecting are the scenes in which Juliet develops a degenerative illness, and is admitted to hospital. As in the original Romeo and Juliet, Romeo obtains some poison, but now it is Juliet who is begging him to use it to end her life.

Some sections work very well, others seem a little jerky.

With no other characters involved, Romeo and Juliet only have each other. This means that the success or failure of Ben Power’s play depends very much on the two actors. Suzanna Hamilton and Patrick Driver are excellent at conveying the give and take of a couple who have lived together for a very long time; their body language is spot on. They are good at wrapping the audience into their thoughts, but there are patches where they seem less convinced by the lines they are delivering, and tend to mutter.

At the end, Juliet’s message is clear, but unromantic: your life must go on, she tells Romeo firmly, even after my death.


Continues until Saturday