After the company's most successful summer season, their revisiting of Shakespeare's violent and passionate tale of youthful death is unsurprising: as well as gaining critical praise, the cast and crew heaped on gargantuan effort every night as even the elements had it in for them in 2012 (many performances ended up in the Botanic Garden's Kibble Palace rather than being rained off altogether).
Three of last year's slick cast returned for this similarly pared-down telling, which relies on only five actors. Robert Elkin's thoughtful and reflective Benvolio was characteristically impressive while also serving a narrative function and book-ending the show. Luke McConnell's Mercutio was even more highly-charged and bawdy with some eye-watering moments which really stretched the more graphic nuances of the text. Stephanie McGregor's Juliet remained feisty, petulant and pleasing, although there wasn't half as much spark with her new Romeo, Scott Fletcher (perhaps best know as Charlie from the Comedy Unit's Gary: Tank Commander). More new blood came from Ross Mann as Tybalt, making his debut with Bard In The Botanics.
Ramping up the violence heightened the darkness of the play, though there was an obvious contrast to the natural light and shade of last year's setting. A wooden "playground" provided a versatile focus while also hammering home the point that these star-crossed lovers were in their early teens and wouldn't look out of place on the swing sets of their time.
The fight direction of Marc Silberschatz provided improvement - and fight captain Luke McConnell was worthy of his additional credit, giving a hugely physical performance as the mercurial pivotal character.