Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Erica Whyman
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – the tragic tale of love at first sight between two young lovers doomed to die through the intransigency of their feuding families, has been performed innumerable times with varying degrees of expertise – plus film, ballet and operatic versions. In consequence, companies strive to present a new take on the Bard’s immortal words. In doing so, they run the risk of losing that which they try so hard to represent and never is this more the case than when the play is transferred into a contemporary setting.
If any company is able to pull it off, surely this must be the prestigious and highly regarded Royal Shakespeare Company, with all its expertise and resources. Unfortunately, this is not the case this time around, despite the dueling sword fights integral to the original being given an on-trend interpretation as the knife war which is so much the concern of today’s society. It must be acknowledged that in this respect director Erica Whyman does hit the jackpot.
But – and it is a big but – sadly Whyman goes overboard in many respects, with the result that what remains is but a pale shadow of the emotional intensity of what is surely one of Shakespeare’s greatest works. Even the opening crowd scene is a muddle, particularly for any member of the audience unfamiliar with the play, and the redistribution of some of the well-known lines is an inexplicable liberty.
All of which is a shame, because there are some talented performances from a predominantly young cast, notably from Bally Gill giving a well-honed and finely tuned performance as Romeo, while Karen Fishwick’s Juliet comes near to capturing the adolescent Juliet but is not quite convincing, giving a more assured performance in the latter half, coping well with the nuances of Juliet’s emotional journey after her meeting with Romeo.
Owing to the indisposition of Josh Finan, Stevie Basaula took over the role of Romeo’s friend Benvolio at this performance, giving an understated interpretation but still dipping his toe into some previously unexplored territory. Now we come to Mercutio – the role that has seen more variations over the past decades than one would have thought possible. This time we have a female, Charlotte Josephine, playing the part. Josephine throws herself into the role in every sense of the word, with limbs thrashing nineteen to the dozen ninety percent of the time. Too much so, to the extent that some of those wonderful speeches almost become throwaway lines.
Ishia Bennison presents as a spunky Nurse who relishes her involvement in the plot, left desolated by her young charge’s demise. Bennison gives a well-rounded and assured performance, as might be expected from one of the more experienced members of the cast.
Sadly, it has to be said that this is not by a long chalk the best we have seen from the RSC, although enrolling a clutch of young people from local schools as extras is commendable. A major disappointment is one of the key features of Romeo and Juliet – the balcony scene, in this production somewhat devoid of atmosphere. The monotone set used through much of the performance doesn’t help; neither does seeing a dead person get up and climb onto a set of stairs.
Runs until Saturday 9th March 2019 | Image: Contributed