Writer: William Shakespeare
Direction: Ben Horslen, John Risebero
Choreography: Richard Jones
Reviewer: Lucy Thackray
Antic Disposition’s Romeo and Juliet is performed in the atmospheric Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. You find it via an intriguing, windy route through this area (notable for the Royal Courts of Justice and many other legal chambers) and into a quiet courtyard which you’d never know was there. There are no signs or clues until you get right up close to the huge, honey-coloured church and step into the hushed, cool atrium. This approach gives a nice sense of occasion and mystery to the show, which unfortunately does not quite live up to it.
The production is spirited with the cast determined to keep the energy high, but lacks focus or any real angle on the piece – it’s a standard, traditional telling of the story. On the upside, it would be a great introduction for young people, Shakespeare students or first timers, but for those who know the play intimately it simply fails to sweep you off your feet or offer any new perspective.
Performed in the round, towards the back of this high-ceilinged church, the directors’ ‘take’ on the text seems to rely almost entirely on its dramatic venue, which, though stunning and well suited to the action, doesn’t do the cast any favours. When voices are raised, dialogue becomes blurred by the echo, and the amount of cries, screams and so on begins to grate as they reverberate into the dome above. That said, the design by John Risebero is effective, with a variety of lighting techniques and simple props: Juliet’s bed soliloquy, a draped white sheet extending her slip of a nightgown, lit from above, is a highlight, as is the blood-red, shadowy dance at the ball.
Dialogue is slickly delivered by this multi-generational cast, but with too much emphasis on the bawdy jokes and silliness, and hardly any on the serious core of the tragedy. It is a somewhat emo play, with a romance and a tragedy that would still hit a Snapchat-era teenager hard, but this cast are too busy trying to get a laugh or display their understanding of the script’s intricacies and references to really get any feeling of sorrow across. Dylan Kennedy and Bryony Tebbutt have decided on their interpretations of the star-cross’d lovers (he goofy and amiable,she playful and sharp), and by the time it rolls around to double suicide o’clock, it’s quite hard to believe they’re that invested in each other. Crucially, they lack chemistry, and the oddly-delivered, rushed dialogue of the first kiss scene means we’re in no hurry to see them back together.
There are some good turns – James Murfitt is a highlight as Mercutio, with that welcome spark of violence and menace beneath the charisma that makes him credible in a knife fight. But beyond being a clear and atmospheric ‘beginner’s version’ of R&J, this production fails to contribute much to the history of this well-loved and much-performed work.