Romeo and Juliet
There is no missing the contemporary setting for the Globe Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Ola Ince. Some of the characters dress in tracksuits, the suited Paris carries a gun, we first meet Juliet practising a bit of kickboxing and at the mask party, Benvolio (Zoe West) plays some rather raucous music on an electric guitar.
Even if you haven’t seen the play, the opening chorus spoken in this performance by the tracksuited street voice of Mercutio (Adam Gillen) tells us that the “lovers take their lives” and, to illustrate this, Romeo and Juliet appear either side of the stage in mime, shooting themselves in the head.
The urge to emphasise a point doesn't end there. A series of statements defining the play in a particular way are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. We are told, “love is a matter of life or death for young people who don’t have a secure attachment to a guardian”, to be replaced later by, “the rational part of a young person’s brain isn't fully developed until the age of 25” and finally by the claim, “suicide is the leading cause of death among all people under 35.”
It is certainly an emotional rollercoaster for Romeo and Juliet, but it is distracting to blame their mental health for a tragedy. After all, the whole thing could have been avoided if the Capulet father had respected Juliet’s right to choose whom she married, or the Nurse and Juliet’s mother, who clearly disagree with him, had taken a stand against his behaviour. And what about the judgement of Friar Laurence (Sargon Yelda), agreeing to marry Romeo to Juliet only hours after Romeo has been declaring to the Friar his love for Rosaline? Certainly, his deranged fake death scheme doesn't smack of the sanest mind in Verona.
If Ola Ince’s projections steer our view back to Shakespeare's source material of Arthur Brooke’s poem that focused blame on the lovers, the play itself gives us a lot of reasons to avoid that happening.
There is also much to like in this lively production, not least of which is the believable romance between Alfred Enoch as Romeo and Rebekah Murrell as Juliet, which moves from light mutual interest to a desperate intensity born of a wider Verona in conflict. Among memorable moments in the production is the final scene when the cast of characters sitting around the stage become the solemn and unmoving witness to the private painful separate deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Their behaviour, having fallen somewhere between complicity and complacency in the violence of Verona, has driven the play to its ugly conclusion.
That violence has been dominated by men and not only the Capulet father who stupidly disregards Juliet’s views. Mercutio and Benvolio are depicted as bored and mischievous, their laddish behaviour slipping into something more worrying as they playfully circle the Nurse on their bikes before riding off with a couple of her shopping bags.
That small scene is a more persuasive case for challenging the behaviour of lads than, for instance, the screen message above the stage earlier that read, “when boys are taught the rules of patriarchy they are forced to deny their feelings.”
Ola should dump the projector and trust Shakespeare to deliver the message.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna