Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Zoe Ford
Reviewer: Lizzie Kirkwood
Arguably Shakespeare’s most popular play, Romeo and Juliet is re-imagined by Zoe Ford’s new production in 1960’s Brighton, which casts the feuding Montagues and Capulets as Mods and Rockers respectively.
For a production set in 1960’s Britain, using the aesthetic of a time when popular music was at the forefront of cultural importance, particularly for teenagers and essentially for Mods and Rockers, there is disappointingly little of it. Technical elements of the show clash with the production; the songs when they do crop up are dropped in rather than integrated and the lighting design is unjustifiably complicated and at times highly distracting.
More confusing still is the presence of a section of Brighton Pier (beautifully designed by Suzi Lombardelli) which looks suspiciously like a balcony and is never used. To have a balcony on the set of Romeo and Juliet and at no point acknowledge its presence is an enormous red herring to lay before an audience. Stylistic choices like this that jar rather than aid the telling of the story are what fetter the actors in this production.
The company— on the whole— do a good job of telling the story and the narrative, when it is allowed to take the fore, is told by the cast in a clear and precise manner. There is some particularly strong support from Elijah Carbon as Prince, Liam Mulvey as Friar Lawrence and Adam Henderson Scott as Tybalt. Robert Durbin stands out as Benvolio, perfectly bridging the tricky gap between Elizabethan verse and the excitement and confusion of 1960’s England. Durbin’s Benvolio is the only example of the 1960’s Brighton setting making complete sense.
Maya Thomas is a compelling Juliet and her soliloquies are some of the highlights of the production. Benjamin Ireland as Romeo is convincing as a boisterous teenager quick to lust after girls, but as a lover driven to suicide he is less so. One can’t help but feel that the chemistry between the central pair was doomed from the point of casting; Romeo is over a foot taller than Juliet and spends much of their scenes bending awkwardly to kiss her.
Fearing that the jokes in Shakespeare’s plays— many of which rely on Elizabethan wordplay— will not translate to a modern audience is a problem every company must address. It is also fair to joke that how far through a production the first pelvic thrust comes is a marker of how confident the company feel in their delivery. If Ford’s production had had one more penis-related gesture, the amount of in-your-face innuendo would have been written off by cabaret drag acts as unsubtle.
Stanislavsky is quoted as saying ‘Any director who has to do something interesting with the text does not understand the text’. While there are many, many exceptions to this rule, the setting of this production comes across as superficial. The lives of 1960’s Mods and Rockers are not integrated into this production; it adds nothing and takes a great deal away.
In this overwrought version of a much-loved play, some stunning performances are marred by convoluted stylistic choices.