Romeo and Juliet
The Quarry Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, and touring
The theatre is packed. A lot of kids in the audience, which these days, in Leeds, means an increasing proportion of black and brown faces - and a lively response.
And, predictably, Rutter's is a lively production. Perhaps too lively. His insistence on finding laughter wherever possible backfired: it does nothing for the play when audience members titter as Juliet swigs the potion and again as Romeo downs his poison. There is a story that when Mrs Siddons took poison on a Leeds stage a cheeky Loiner, feeling the thesp was making a meal of it, shouted, 'Sup up, lass!'
Mrs Siddons declared she would never play Leeds again. Let's hope Mr Rutter doesn't follow suit. For all his staged yillery yallery, his touring productions would be sorely missed in the city. Barrie Rutter has made Shakespeare accessible to many who once spurned his works. For that we should be thankful.
Romeo and Juliet doesn't immediately suggest itself as well suited to the Broadsides' treatment. Predictably the fight sequences work well. And the ball is a riot, but, as suggested above, the pathos and tragedy suffer a little.
However, the play survives. We were treated to a strong and dignified performance from Fine Time Fontayne as Friar Laurence. Indeed such authority did Fontayne bring to the role that the Friar became the key to the whole drama.
But the star of the show, without doubt, was Conrad Nelson. His compositions, played by the actors on an assortment of instruments including hand bells, graced the production. The music started out entertaining and life enhancing, it ended, with the deaths, as moving and beautiful. It's deployment is intelligent and mature. For the music alone this production is worth seeking out.
At Leeds until 5th April, then touring to Liverpool, Scarborough, Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond, Bury St Edmunds, Skipton, Buxton, Halifax and Salford
Reviewer: Ray Brown