Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Rob Salmon
Reviewer: Craig Barber
Daddy’s little princess meets rough Essex lad as their warring parents try to outdo each other with their displays of ostentatious over-excess. It sounds like an episode from The Only Way Is Essex but is the modern setting for The RSC Open Stages, New Wolsey Theatre community production of Romeo And Juliet.
Fair Verona has been transposed to deepest darkest Essex, Ipswich Town Hall’s marble columns standing in for the Capulet’s nouveau riche tasteless opulence. A party is in full flow, a disco echoes down the staircase and a motley collection of tracksuited, bling-covered chavs fight drunkenly in the corridors.
Amid this chaos the chances of our ‘star-crossed lovers’ finding romance seems slim but Juliet, the spoilt daughter of Capulet, falls for her Romeo. Out goes the famous balcony scene, here the lovers declare their affections against the pulsating lights of the disco unit.
Director Rob Salmon has chosen to stage the piece as a promenade performance, the audience moving from room to room across the Town Hall. While this does give some sense of reality to the piece, eavesdropping on overheard conversations, it does break up the dramatic flow as the audience are shepherded up and down stairs several times. The constant moving also adds to the already considerable three and a quarter hour running time, making for a long and tiring evening.
The community company have great fun with the grotesque of their characters. There are strong performances from Stephen Hawthorne and Jackie Montague as Lord and Lady Capulet, their common roots breaking through the persona of nobility. There are nice cameos from Liam Cadzow-Webb as Balthasar, Paul Couch as an intense Friar Laurence and Joseph Fielder as Prince Escalus, portrayed as a Police voice of authority.
As the titular couple, Armonie Melville and Tom Bailey hold the piece together. Both give highly charged emotional performance with Bailey especially impressive in his intensity but, while both impress individually, one is never wholly convinced of the chemistry between them.
While the energy and ambition is impressive, where Salmon’s production falls down is attention to Shakespeare’s verse. Diction and pace is often poor, with a tendency for some of the cast to gabble through their lines at breakneck speed. It seems to be a particular problem with the younger members of the company, whose exuberance comes at the cost of text. Iambic pentameter has been dumped in favour of the strangulated estuary English and, in doing so, some of the power of the piece is lost.
Foxton’s designs are impressive; creating a series of immersive environments that provides surprises behind every door.
This is an ambitious project that brings Shakespeare to life in an inventive manner; if that inventiveness can be tempered with a stronger focus on delivering Shakespeare’s words, the effort would be worthwhile. At present this is a relationship to be very fond off rather than fall deeply in love with.