DramaLondonReview

Juliet & Romeo – Chelsea Theatre, London

Reviewer: Louise Burns

Writer and Director: Darren Raymond

This is Shakespeare reimagined with gender twists, and a seamless blend of original text and contemporary language. In a sharply observed script by Darren Raymond, this young company of actors from Intermission Youth Theatre revive an old story with immediate impact.

We are in contemporary London. There is a global pandemic but with BLM so too is there a charged air of change for these young people. Ophelia J Wisdom’s South London Juliet is a balance of streetwise and maturity. She is athletic and confident with a tight group of friends, including Niara Rowe’s spirited Mercurio, whose impassioned and poetic speeches about the BLM movement ignite an interest in politics. Rowe also brings a poignant clarity to Shakespeare’s Queen Mab speech. Why is it that they can only dream the unreachable? Elijah Maximus’s Tibs brings a different kind of energy. He is equally outspoken but also volatile. When there is confrontation, he skilfully wields a weapon and there follows upsetting violence.

Chadrack Mbuini plays Romeo with a distinctive subtlety. He is shy and yet to realise his full potential. He lives with his older sister Capo, a captivating Megan Samuel for whom performing spoken word comes naturally. They lost their mother, and they look after each other. Capo especially looks out for Romeo. It might not be legal, but in her endz of East London she’s doing what she can to make sure her brother has a chance of the life he wants. When Juliet throws a party with her closest mates, the classic love story and old rivalries collide with devastating consequences.

Following the story from these new perspectives is clever. Not only are familiar characters redefined, but also we are forced to rethink our assumptions of their experience when the themes of belonging, love and revenge are played out in a modern context. Why are we so protective over our space? ‘That’s my seat! ‘You’re in my place!’” asks the exasperated Christopher Mbaki’s Friar, whose reason to marry the lovers becomes clear. His updated vocation also brings a new danger to Juliet and Romeo’s marriage vows. There is also joyful comedy in the form of Tyrese Taylor’s Jamaican Laurence whose natural comic instincts delight. There are hopeful glimpses of change such as Kosi Okoli’s Officer’s Stop and Search designed instead to help and support. Why are you letting me search you? I don’t have enough cause”. But he too is frustrated when a fight is interrupted. “Stop! This has got to stop”, he pleads.

This production also has alternating casts, so depending on what night you see it, the actors who play the chorus also play different parts on other nights: A terrific reason to go and see it again, as is the brilliant and lively TalkBack with the cast after every performance.

The script of Juliet & Romeo is developed from Intermission Youth workshops, where the company improvise original scenes, sometimes drawing on their own personal experiences, before Raymond combines their language with Shakespeare’s poetry. Although sometimes an unfamiliar word or speech pattern might be difficult to follow, the performers capture every nuance and meaning behind their characters. This company’s passion, energy and talent are the heart of this unmissable production.

Runs until 4 December 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Modern twist on Shakespeare

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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