Romeo and Juliet
According to the Oddsocks company publicity machine, Shakespeare has never been so amusing. This is, I fear, hard to believe. A touring production which has played a variety of open-air venues in the last year now makes its London debut, playing to what appeared a steady flow of ardent Oddsocks supporters and a smattering of non-English-speaking tourists.
Fortunately for the tourists, it really didnt matter if English wasnt their first language. The slapstick humour was decidedly visual, almost Benny Hill-esque in its retro appeal. Unfortunately, hearing Shakespeare spoken with obscenely cod Italian accents (a supposedly humorous take on the plays location) began to pall very early on. After the umpteenth a-pizza and a-pasta joke, the humour soon wore as thin is the plastic-tablecloth-painted set.
Directed by Andy Barrow on a set with multi-media design by Kee Ramsorrun, a five-strong cast of performers did their utmost best to inject fun and laughs into a decidedly unfunny adaptation. Neal Craigs Romeo is by far the most accomplished of the comic characters, Romeos eventual death by poison a true moment of comedy in an otherwise tragic (for all the wrong reasons) play.
Andy McGillans Friar is mildly annoying as an American preacher, although other parts suit him better. William Finkenraths rubber features cannot make up for an impenetrably bad mock-Italian accent, with Tanya Huq as Juliet and Elli Mackenzie as her Nurse making the best of a bad lot.
With the relative expanse of the Arts Theatre stage to negotiate, it is shocking to see actors lined up on stage as if (literally) straight from the humblest school panto. This is a directorial fault and no mistake. The production feels like a group of over-energized and dedicated performers have thrown together a show, listening too often to themselves and not to their audiences, for whom the comedy was as hard to swallow as Juliets sleeping draught.
Every good wish to a company that strives to make Shakespeare accessible to a family audience, but with the best will in the world (no pun intended, but thats pretty much the standard), the venture is hardly worthy of its short-lived West End home. With so much variety on offer, it is difficult not to sound London-centric and snobbish. If, like some of the bemused tourists, you can stomach your comedy very, very undercooked, then this belly-tickling as opposed to side-splitting slice of cold pizza will readily appeal.
Reviewer: Kevin Quarmby