I know Romeo and Juliet pretty well. I’ve studied it and seen it live on stage many times. But, watching the latest RSC touring production of the classic Shakespeare play, I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
They say the mark of a truly successful Shakespearean production is in its translation. Audiences should know exactly what each character is saying, and understand the meaning behind Shakespeare’s language. It is, in some ways, a travesty that I saw Leeds Playhouse’s most recent production of Romeo and Juliet (directed by the incomparable Amy Leach) – it was a masterclass of a production. It brought relevancy and currency to the play whilst celebrating the legendary words of the Bard with wit, creativity and stunning emotional depth. But unfortunately I am not reviewing that world-class production, I’m reviewing this one.
Aside from the manic talking pace, strange techno-dancing and frantic expressions (which must be attributed to Erica Whyman’s direction), the characters are just wholly unlikable. At every death scene, I’m just glad we’re one step closer to curtain down. Unfortunately there isn’t any connection between Romeo (played by Bally Gill) or Juliet (Karen Fishwick), which leaves the whole play awfully pointless, somehow, and the ultimate resolve quite anti-climactic. The fight scenes between the two gangs are appallingly choreographed (directed by Kate Waters) and unbelievable, when the potential to highlight the horrors of knife crime could have been particularly poignant.
The rest of the cast are annoying at best, with none showing much gravitas in their role. In his most serious scenes, Michael Haque reminds me of Oliver Reed in his infamous Aspel Show interview while the sleazy Nurse (played by Ishia Bennison) dominates far too many scenes. Charlotte Josephine is particularly infuriating as Mercutio. Where the likes of Elexi Walker handle the character with likeable ferocity, Josephine grinds and gurns in what is frankly an antagonistic interpretation of Romeo’s best mate. I don’t like his ‘gang’, and I’m not on his side. I’m not really on anyone’s side, but for all the wrong reasons. This emotionally draining, thought-provoking play is reduced to a slightly silly teen romance that gets all bundled up in the middle of a petty squabble that just goes too far.
The only plus-point of this production is that maybe, just maybe, it might appeal to the teens most likely to be dragged to see it with their school party. It’s wonderful to see a diverse cast making theatre accessible to younger people and the teens that were in the audience seemed engrossed (or, perhaps, confused). Whatever my personal thoughts, the production certainly does a good job of creatively modernising Romeo and Juliet and dragging it kicking and squealing into the 21st Century. Unfortunately, I feel entirely biased having seen Leeds Playhouse’s version of the show – a production that makes all others impossible to compare to.
If you’re interested to see the show, it’s on until 16th February at Bradford Alhambra.
Photograph taken from the Bradford Theatres website.