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REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

15 Apr – 23 Jan 2016

The theatre’s enthralling 2016 season continued this month with Lyndsey Meer’s compelling modern dress production of Romeo and Juliet. The contemporary setting made for an uncomfortable watch at times as it made relevant the issues of violence, bigotry and the fate of a couple who find themselves trapped between divided factions. The verse speaking was boldly dealt with, as were the challenges of the large cast and the variety of scenes played out over a versatile two level set.

James Crouch and Kate Marks appeared to be genuinely smitten lovers. Both gave us performances amplified by emotion and resolution. You really want it to work out for them.

The ability to deliver blank verse varied across across the cast. James Slacke as Benvolio, Nick Griffith as Mercutio, Michael Wilson as Friar Lawrence and Christine Spencer as the Nurse made the text sparkle. All of them conveyed the difficulties of people manipulated by events around them. Peter Roe as the prince was suitably magisterial while unable to impose his will on his subjects. Tybalt (Adam Gallagher) was brooding and implacable. Lady Capulet (Pauleen McLaughlin) fails to understand her daughter in a way that will cause many of the audience to wince in fellow feeling.

The contrast between the events of the public sphere of Verona and the private love story as it unfolds from first meeting through to secret marriage and eventually to the tragic misunderstanding that concludes the play is enhanced by the two levels of the set. There are scenes which amplify the preparations of Romeo, Juliet and Friar Lawrence for the marriage, to show the lords and ladies of the town to observe the violence perpetrated by the family hotheads, or to suggest the claustrophobia of the Capulet family Crypt where the action ends. Simple but effective props are used to keep the schism continually in the mind of the audience.

Romeo and Juliet is not all unrelieved misery. The physical comedy was well delivered, particularly by David Ames as Peter and Christine Spencer as the Nurse. Stephen Whitehead as Capulet has to appear comically strutting, tyrannical and grief stricken by turns which he managed excellently. Romeo’s entrance on skateboard appeared both funny and completely natural.

This production brings out the heart wrenching fact that, with a bit of luck, it might all have ended happily.

Penny Jeffries

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