Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Nick Bagnall
Reviewer: Abbie Rippon
If you were to ask anyone to list the ten most famous plays of all time, Romeo & Juliet would be up there. It is one of the most iconic pieces of writing ever produced and has been reworked in a multitude of mediums from films to musicals to ballets; this love story has been the subject poems and songs for as long as anyone can remember.
How can this story be created afresh for a twenty-first-century audience? Director Nick Bagnall, the Everyman Company and their entourage of YEP (Young Everyman Playhouse) performers have turned this tale on its head telling the story of the young vagabond Romeo and his husband, the refined yet mollycoddled Julius, who’s families are torn apart through clashes in culture and territory.
Bagnall and the cast and creatives have put together a vigorous and fast-paced production, having taken a lot of liberties slashing the text apart and piecing it back together. Scenes are cross cut or cut out altogether, characters are combined (Lord Capulet has passed away at the beginning of this production, Asha Kingsley as Lady Capulet chiefly takes on his role) and pronouns are altered where characters genders have changed (Zelina Rebeiro, for example, takes on the role of Countess Paris).
Purists might well be offended, however, one has to admit that very little is lost of the feel and content of the original story despite the heavy modifications. It is disappointing not to hear Sampson and Gregory’s opening altercations. Also, the timid first meeting between the lovers where Romeo profanes with his ‘unworthiest hand’, here the script is transformed into an accompanying song which by no means has the same impact as the original dialogue. Other than this the team has altered the text with success, adding to the pace and feeling of the impending demise of the two lovers.
The live sound composed by James Fortune and performed by the Women’s Chorus is truly haunting. The piece is performed in the round and the Chorus often perform in the four corners; ghostly voices appearing as if from nowhere, echoing the mourning felt by the characters on stage. The original music performed by the Women’s Chorus works superbly alongside the West Indian songs of the Nurse, beautifully taken on by Melanie La Barrie. However the use of the Buzzcocks song Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) as a repetitive musical motif through the play doesn’t work, it feels too poppy and dated in a production with such a sense of timelessness about it.
A production of such velocity needs performers of equal momentum to transport the audience throughout the story. Whereas in previous interpretations of the bard’s classic tale, Romeo is often a lovelorn, innocent youth, George Caple interprets him with vigour, honesty, and fire in his belly. Caple balances Romeo’s headstrong nature with a logical understanding of the characters flaws. He makes Romeo more than just ‘endearing’ or ‘likeable’, his performance is a true reflection of how the character should be written now. Romeo spends his time on the streets, smoking pot, getting into trouble in a world where everyone carries a weapon. One might question how he could win the heart of the overindulged, cosseted Julius played by Elliot Kingsley, but this Romeo has the force of mind to love truly and the magnitude to win love where he will. A truly commendable performance.
Accompanying Caple for the fist half of Romeo’s fateful journey is Dean Nolan as the Kilt-clad Mercutio. Nolan embraces Mercutio’s lust-for-life and lust-for-trouble as well as the true affection he holds for Romeo, like an older brother who wouldn’t think twice to put him in a headlock While at the same time head butting anyone who crosses his young friend. Richard Bremner as Friar Lawrence, Romeo’s confidant, is a welcome change from the traditional Priest seen in many a production. There is real warmth and affection behind his actions, anyone would feel comforted with this humble Friar on their side.
The company is supported by members of the Young Everyman Playhouse company in the ensemble, with Isobel Balchin and Alice Corrigan stepping up to the plate as Benvolio and Balthasar. The Everyman has always been at the forefront of supporting and encouraging young talent, long may this tradition continue.
The Everyman’s Romeo & Juliet might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It challenges conventions and takes a hell of a lot of artistic license but it gives a fresh perspective on a four-hundred-year-old story that many say has been ‘done to death’. The Everyman at Liverpool may have just brought Shakespeare’s classic back to life.
Runs until 7th June before going into rep | Image: Gary Calton