DramaReviewShakespeareShakespeare 400South WestYouth Theatre

Romeo and Juliet – New Theatre, Cardiff

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Bruce Guthrie
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Shakespeare’s tragic love story has been reworked countless times in many genres. All the more credit, then, to the National Youth Theatre of Wales and its artistic director Bruce Guthrie for daring to add their own contemporary take to the list. A pared-down version, this, of Shakespeare’s original, cut to two hours but jam-packed from start to finish with the brawling and street fighting that ends so tragically in so many young deaths. It’s not hard to see the parallel with the violent society of today and physical theatre company Frantic Assembly throw themselves into this important part of the oeuvre with both enthusiasm and expertise.

The dispute between the warring houses of Capulet and Montague – Juliet belongs to the former, ruled over by a despotic Dad, and Romeo to the more laid-back Montague clan – forms the background to, and runs alongside, the love story which is the very heartbeat of this play. In this production the physical action can, at times, become so overwhelming that it threatens to obscure the main issue.

The prologue, in the form of a TV news bulletin, is well-enunciated by Axelina Heagney. Interestingly, as the well-known dialogue leads us into the story, Benvolio – a nicely timed performance by Samuel Longville – is given more prominence than usual. Alongside Mercutio, Bevolio is the steadying force – the voice of reason, one might say – later given the unenviable task of telling Romeo of his friend Mercutio’s death in a fight with his arch-enemy Tybalt, (Sebastian Lewis) who is unfortunately Juliet’s first cousin.

In keeping with the current trend (think Glenda Jackson, soon to be seen as King Lear) Mercutio is played by a girl, namely Rebecca Hayes. Hayes gives it her all with fisticuffs and kicks, which could have been described as the horseplay of youth did it not end so tragically. So – what of the young lovers?

Yasemin Ozdemir is a young and rebellious Juliet, a bit of a hoyden and at odds with her parents from the word go, making the transformation into a love-smitten teenager difficult to believe at first but coming into her own in the latter half as a heartbroken young woman ultimately part of a tragedy not of her making but ending in death for her and her Romeo. In the latter role, Gruff Harries avoids the temptation to ape any of the illustrious performers who have tackled this part before him. Instead, we have a young and unsure Romeo prone to uncertainty, low-key and soft-spoken – not always wisely, as at times it was difficult to hear his words.

Mention must be made of Kayley Stead as Juliet’s nurse who, on opening night in Cardiff, coped like a pro with a power failure at the pivotal moment when Nurse discovers Juliet seemingly dead on what was to have been her wedding morning.

Visuals include use of video footage in clever backdrops plus devices such as ‘Jesus’ spelt out in neon lighting on a giant cross at the back of the stage in the church scene, while lighting and music both have important parts to play and are admirably executed.

The juxtapositioning of scenes involved in shortening the play, although seamless at times, does not always work well, while the consequent cuts and alterations in dialogue result in some of the beauty of the language becoming lost.

Runs until Saturday 10 September | Image: Contributed

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