Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe

production photo by John Haynes

Dominic Dromgoole has bravely chosen to cast very young actors in the leading roles and upped the stakes by using a fuller text than is common, therefore including more potentially dull sequences. This takes the playing time to three hours, but thankfully, they contain many pleasures.

The lithe, athletic Adetomiwa Edun has great stage presence and a rather modern jauntiness as Romeo. His love is played by Ellie Kendrick, convincing as a 13 year old because of her size but also her youth. Where most Cambridge recruits take a pre-uni gap year exploring the world or working in an office, Miss Kendrick has starred on TV as Anne Frank and now at the Globe playing Juliet.

The actress has a gaucheness and frailty that is convincing, although, like a number of the members of this cast, does not always speak clearly, even when jets and helicopters are not roaring overhead.

Designer Simon Daw has extended both the stage and the gallery. The former cramps the groundlings, promoting intimacy with the players, while the large gallery makes for a beautiful and very moving balcony scene.

The early stages see playwright and director at their mischievous, ribald best as Dromgoole demonstrates that almost every sentence contains a hidden sexual reference.

Many of the set-pieces are highly effective, with the swordsmanship and wrestling of top quality and much of the comedy extremely funny, which tends to be this director's trademark.

He benefits from some particularly memorable performances from supporting players. Fergal McElherron is a born clown in a number of roles, while Ian Redford as Juliet's father Capulet shows the kind of red-faced anger that drives his beloved daughter to her grave. Philip Cumbus makes a fine Mercutio, very belligerent but with a good sense of humour.

Best of all is Penny Layden as a North Country Nurse, who shows great care for her charge but is also a source of much comedy.

A novel import is Whale Rider star Rawiri Paratene, who gives Friar Lawrence great dignity and humanity as well as clarity of diction.

The drama is enhanced by music and songs from paired quartets, one with period instruments, the other good voices, while the Jacobean costumes identify allegiances, Capulets in red, Montagues in green or blue. The only exceptions are the "neutrals" and touchingly, the star-crossed lovers, who take on elements of the other faction, after their betrothal.

Dominic Dromgoole is really settling into his role as Artistic Director here. He now uses the space very well both onstage and beyond, creating a great effect by having dead Juliet carried on her bier through the throng. He is also developing the invaluable knack of ensuring that the language feels natural to modern audiences.

Although the energy seemed to drop a little either side of a fairly late interval, this is a strong start to a season christened Young Hearts and bodes well for the summer at this unique Bankside venue.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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