Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Paul Hart
Reviewer: Matthew Bagnall
Romeo and Juliet needs little introduction: it is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous and widely acclaimed plays and has been enjoyed by millions across the globe. The classical frocks and outlandish costumes with which we might be familiar have been revolutionised in this bold and creative take on one of Shakespeare’s finest works.
Watermill Theatre is nationally known for its bold reimagining of familiar classics, using actor-musicians to add a freshness and modern approach to theatre. Director Paul Hart – who is also artistic and executive director of the company – is responsible for this creative and contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet’s heart-breaking quest for love.
The audience is immediately greeted with the appropriately named ‘Capulets’ bar. The actor-musicians engage with the cheering ‘crowd’ as though we have visited an out of town bar on the way to the theatre. This sets the tone for the performance, however, as we are now clear on the boldness and complete reimagining of Romeo and Juliet that is to follow. It’s less ‘keeping up appearances’ in an upper-class setting, and more ‘rock n’ roll’. This approach may have a love or hate feel about it, but it can’t be argued that Watermill should be praised for its unique style and adaptation. Theatre needs more reimagining of this kind to attract and engage younger audiences; bringing a freshness to theatre which has the potential to be powerful.
The actor-musicians treat us to well-known songs from ‘The Vaccines’ and ‘Hozier’, adding atmospheric tension to the drama that unfolds. It is a scene which embeds ‘Mumford and Sons’ that highlights the heartbreak and desperation in Romeo and Juliet’s everlasting need for one another, showcasing some stunning physical theatre and live music. Ian McCracken’s fight direction is well timed and choreographed, bringing even more excitement and drama to the play. Along with more movement, this could have been integrated even more consistently throughout the production. The live music and foley sounds – all created and performed by the cast – are exemplary for modern-day theatre and make key moments of the play even more gripping.
The set and staging of the production reflect the braveness in the significant reimagining of the play. The contemporary approach with actor-musicians certainly works, but more could be made of the set to execute that creativity and fresh style even further.
Aruhan Galieva brings a gentle timidness to the role of Juliet. This approach makes the empathy much stronger as the audience develop a compassionate relationship with both her and Stuart Wilde’s Romeo. Wilde portrays the rock-star Romeo with great charisma, making their connection and relationship that much stronger.
Overall, this production of Romeo and Juliet is full of energy, excitement and appeal. The fresh and bold approach is welcomed and at times makes for a stunning production.
Reviewed on 12 July 2017 and on tour | Image: Scott Rylander