Romeo and Juliet
A director embarking on a contemporary, modern dress interpretation of a Shakespeare play needs to be very clear about the context created and how this relates to the bard’s original text.
Jonathan Humphreys’s production is dominated by a huge corrugated iron set, (determinedly only one shade of grey) which looks like the inside of a factory or an airport hangar, and bears little adaptation.
No sign of the opulence of Verona or the considerable wealth of the two warring factions. When we first meet Capulet, he is scruffy, unshaven and wearing braces. Lady Capulet sports a sexy onesie and high heels.
The Montagues, on the other hand, are rather better turned out. One could generously surmise that the Capulets represent New Money while the Montagues have inherited wealth, but this is not clear, nor is it supported by the text.
This is a production that places emphasis on the plot line, so it moves fast but occasionally sacrifices clarity, as in the fatal stabbing of Mercutio, which is so crucial for the tragic development of the play.
What is notably absent from the outset is a sense of real danger, jumpiness, imminent confrontation as the warring factions clash in the streets. Even the early "Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?", usually a convincingly explosive encounter, lacks bite.
In a predominantly young cast, some have had no previous experience of being in a Shakespeare play except at drama school. This is apparently the case with the two principals, Freddie Fox and Morfydd Clark.
Fox is a disarmingly attractive Romeo, blonde and blue-eyed, but there is more than a touch of Dorian Grey in his performance, perhaps over-aware of his own beauty. In contrast, Clark is self-effacing as Juliet and, though she speaks the verse with sensitivity, she needs to enlarge her performance to reach out to the audience. At this early stage of the run, there is little sense of rapport between the characters. Each seems to be in his/her own cocoon.
Humphreys has attempted to inject some additional comedy into the action to liven it up. Joshua Miles, as the servant Peter, has one or two comic turns involving cleaning, which are good fun but not as good as the wit in the exchanges between Romeo and Mercutio, which somehow get lost in the wash.
Similarly, Paris (Andrew Leung) is characterised as a kind of Andrew Aguecheek, a foolish knight, which hardly seems appropriate in the context.
There is solid support from the more mature and experienced members of the cast, including Joanna Croll as Lady Montague/Sister and Rachel Lumberg, well cast as the Nurse, who gives her usual energetic and reliable performance.
It is early in the run and there is plenty of time for confidence building and character development. But, as it stands, this is not a production which will inspire the next generation of theatre goers to love and appreciate Shakespeare.
Reviewer: Velda Harris