For Verona read Belfast, for warring families read warring factions – and that is just one reason why OVO goes from strength to strength.

The St Albans-based theatre company has marked its 20th anniversary by opening its annual open air festival with its adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, the first play the fledgling drama group performed in 2003.

And in true original OVO fashion, it has moved the period and setting of the Shakespeare play to Belfast in 1998, the year of the Good Friday agreement in recognition of the fact that a tenuous peace can only last so long, whether it be in Verona or Northern Ireland.

Much of Shakespeare’s wonderful language is retained but interspersed with music and dance. Even the impressive fight scenes are almost balletic.

It is this thinking outside the box that has resulted in so much of OVO’s success and Romeo and Juliet, 2023-style, demonstrates it in droves.

The production is directed professionally by Stephanie Allison and Amy Connery, the latter born in Belfast in the 1990s and by her own admission keen to learn about a section of history she missed.

Herts Advertiser: The action of Romeo and Juliet was transported to 1990s BelfastThe action of Romeo and Juliet was transported to 1990s Belfast (Image: Elliott Franks)

The sparse but impressive set is designed by OVO’s associate director Simon Nicholas and is a perfect backcloth as events are played out.

There is no balcony for Juliet who calls for her Romeo from a scaffolding bridge. Its stark outline and simplicity serves as a metaphor for the production.

Ryan Downey as Romeo and Francesca Eldred as Juliet are charming as they act out their love story on the streets of Belfast. Purists will have to ignore the fact that Shakespeare’s Juliet was supposedly only 12 years old.

The moment they first set eyes on each other against the singing of The Waterboys’ hit The Whole of the Moon is magical.

Lyle Fulton is impressive as a guitar-playing Benvolio while Jenson Parker-Stone puts so much energy into his role as Mercutio that his death must have come as a relief to him if not to the audience.


Faith Turner adds a new dimension to her role as Lady Capulet with a permanent drink in her hand and Anna Macleod Franklin is delightfully naughty as Juliet’s nurse summing up Romeo’s appeal to her charge.

Everyone in the cast as well as the live band give their all to make Romeo and Juliet a fitting start to the new season at the Roman Theatre in Verulamium and a reminder of how far OVO has come in the past 20 years.

Additional performances will take place in July. Further details and tickets can be obtained from