Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Ola Ince
In this refreshing and vibrant production, Romeo & Juliet is placed in a modern context. Illuminating themes of mental health, injustice and inequality, this urgent production speaks openly and directly to a younger generation.
We are in contemporary Britain, most likely London. Jacob Hughes’s sparse design uses a mixture of materials to capture a modern city divided. A scattering of wooden chairs, the prominent stage pillars are clad in blood red, iron railings at the bottom and ubiquitous CCTV cameras are placed on top. In the yard, a tall metal ladder leans against the galleries, perhaps a hopeful but as-yet futile escape from future tragic events.
With the casting of Rebekah Murrell as Juliet and Alfred Enoch as Romeo, an accurate portrayal of a contemporary, inclusive society is represented. This is one of the many candid choices from director Ola Ince in her inaugural production for Shakespeare’s Globe. Ince is an established director, marked by previous productions such as Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (The Gate) about the LA riots, or the recent 846, an audio play for Stratford-East responding to the killing of George Floyd. Ince’s creative voice is unmistakable with a pressing call to change.
To capture this society’s chaos and senselessness, Shakespeare’s text is at times fragmented, and throughout the production a prominent digital display reveals facts on homelessness, mental health, teenage depression, crime, and women’s safety. Capulet’s wild party depicts the carnivalesque world, accompanied with rhythmic atonal jazz, and Hughes and Jackie Orton’s costumes of half beasts, half mortals. A musician wearing an elephant’s head fittingly plays the trumpet, while Dwane Walcott’s Paris ironically (and hilariously) serenades Juliet while dressed as a knight in shining armour, but with a shark’s head.
Storytelling is prominent and with the excellent company of actors, relationships are clear and language precise. Sirine Saba’s superb Nurse is more like a younger nanny to Juliet, played with joyful energy, wit, and much humour. Their closeness is obvious and her agonised cry of pain when finding Juliet hits hard. Silias Carson’s controlling Capulet is partiality memorable as a father struggling to contain his seething anger but also, as Carson calmly and defiantly owns the stage space, a frightening threat to Juliet should she disobey his orders.
This production is undercut with piercing images of realism– the suicides of Romeo and Juliet particularly upsetting. And rightly so. Romeo, Adam Gillen’s Mercutio, and Zoe West’s Benvolio ride push bikes adorned with chains, bullying Saba’s Nurse in the street as she unsuccessfully struggles to keep a hold of her M&S shopping. Seemingly delinquent, it’s more so apparent that in reality these young teens are ignored, with only Friar Lawrence’s youth club providing a place of their own. When, after Tybalt’s murder, Romeo seeks refuge with Sargon Yelda’s Friar Lawrence, the visibly distressed Yelda cannot protect Romeo. Enoch drops to the ground before curling up in a ball, his youth and helplessness strikingly apparent.
Runs until 17 October 2021