DramaNorth WestReviewShakespeare

The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Kayleigh Hawkins

Reviewer: Matthew Forrest

It is 24 years since my first introduction to the works of William Shakespeare; ironically enough it was this very play that first brought me to ‘The Bard’. It was an especially malevolent English teacher that forced me to read the part of Romeo during the balcony scene:  a quite unremarkable performance was given by myself, and one that led to quite a bit of ‘Mickey’ taking from my classmates. However, fear not, there is no repeat of that here as the Girl Gang (a multi-city collective) stage an all-female version of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

Telling the tale of two families of fair Verona: the Montagues and Capulets who loath one another, it is a blood feud that threatens to destroy them. Nonetheless amongst the chaos and hatred blossoms and an endearing love affair between teenagers Romeo (Emily Dowson) of house Montague and Juliet (Amy Leeson) of house Capulet. However, the course of true love does not run smoothly and as the feud intensifies and the body count rises, our star-crossed lovers seemingly must end the relationship just as it’s getting started. All may not be lost, as the two have allies in the shape of Friar Lawrence (Joyce Branagh) and Juliet’s nurse (Maria Major) who are sympathetic to their plight, but will it be enough to give the young lovers their happy ever after?

This version of Shakespeare’s tragic love story plays it relatively safe, focusing on the themes of love, friendship, honour and revenge. It has been given a contemporary twist, with the setting of a “modern-day” Verona, where characters are often seen drinking lager and smoking the odd joint here and there. The ball at the Capulet’s house where Romeo and Juliet first meet is mash-up of a traditional ball and a warehouse rave, fully encapsulating the edgy aesthetic that the group is going for. There are also a few subtle nods to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet which are worth keeping an eye out for.

The production gets the right balance between tragedy and comedy, with the cast having a great deal of fun with Shakespeare’s testosterone-fuelled scenes between Romeo and his kinsman, where fighting and fornicating seem to be the order of the day: with the cast clearly enjoying sending up these scenes. The themes of masculinity and gender roles come into conflict throughout the play as well, with Romeo seen to be more merciful throughout whilst Juliet is forthright and headstrong, which is fully exemplified in one scene where Juliet picks Romeo up and carries him over to the bed.

The production boasts some fine performances throughout from the entire cast, with Elaine McNicol as Benvolio providing the heart and soul, and Hannah Ellis Ryan as Mercutio giving a performance full of fire and passion. As the cast double as the stagehands as well, more emphasis should be placed on remaining in character during these transitions which some cast members did admirably, whilst some less so.

There is a slight pacing issue, with acts one and two performed with real gusto and energy, that really keep you engaged, however the final act losses some of its spark towards the end.

Overall this is a brave, fun production that doesn’t take itself too seriously, produced and performed by a clearly über-talented group of creative individuals at the top of their game and are clearly having a ball doing so. It certainly bodes well for future productions that’s for sure.

Runs until 29June 2018 | Image:Tom Barker

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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