It really is impossible to write a review of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” without mentioning that it is the tragic tale of star crossed lovers. Now that’s out of the way let’s turn our attention to the Candlefire production currently in residence at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre.
In a darkened room, a man is tortured as he sets the scene for his captors and therefore the audience – ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’ – and we are off into the world of the Capulets and Montagues, two families that hate each other with a passion. Street brawls between each have become so prevalent that the authorities have threatened real retribution if the situation doesn’t improve. This evening, Capulet (Carly Jukes) is throwing a great party not only for Verona’s great and good but also as an opportunity for Juliet (Marie Issermann) to meet her future husband, Paris (Edward Daw). The Montagues, led by the dashing Romeo (Robert Fellman) learn of the festivities and, egged on by Mercutio (Turan Duncan) decide to gatecrash the event. The peace loving Benvolio (Martin Sales) and Balthasar (Joshua Jewkes) are not entirely happy with this idea, fearing it could cause trouble if they are recognised but go along with the others.
All is going well, until Romeo spots Juliet and, as is the way of youngsters, falls immediately in love with the fair maiden. Juliet seems to reciprocate the feeling and whilst the two are getting to know each other better, they are spotted by Tybalt (David Gurney) and a fight breaks out. Juliet is taken away from the party by her nurse (Asha Cluer) and the Montagues are ejected. Later that evening, Romeo sneaks over an orchard wall and meets Juliet and the two of them pledge their fidelity to each other. They arrange to meet the next day at the cell of Friar Laurence (Johnathan Curry) where they plan to be married. Whilst this would be a lovely ending to the story, this being Shakespeare, there is not much chance of that and both the Montagues and Capulets suffer the horrific repercussions of Romeo and Juliet’s actions.
Adapting a play as well known as “Romeo and Juliet” for a smaller cast than normal is a pretty daunting task but Joshua Jewkes and Director Jacklyn Bradley have done a fantastic job of shrinking the original from 21 characters to 10 without losing any of the intricacies of the story as a whole. The production is really great from start to finish and makes superb use of the Brockley Jack’s performing space using the minimum of props to evoke a wonderful sense of atmosphere as we travel through Verona with our highly skilled cast. Of course, Shakespeare’s words help as they resound around the theatre full of phrases that have become a wonderful part of the English lexicon. There were various elements of the direction I particularly loved and I’m going to single out the end of Act I, which merged the happiness of Romeo and Juliet’s wedding with the horrific beating of Balthasar by Tybalt and Paris. I will also add that I really enjoyed the ending which was, to my mind, an improvement on the original.
The strong cast deliver outstanding performances throughout and the relationship between Robert’s Romeo and Marie’s Juliet felt both sincere and realistic. I also loved Turan Duncan’s swaggering, flirty and at times pretty camp Mercutio – a character guaranteed to get his friends into trouble but have a great time while they do it. Credit has to be given to Fight Choreographer Steve Bradley for some of the most realistic and, at times upsetting, fight scenes I’ve seen on stage. In fact the fight that ended with Mercutio’s stabbing actually caused a lump in my throat and a touch of the sniffles.
In a bit of a break from tradition, I want to mention the programme and publicity material for this production. I haven’t been able to find out the details but I have to say the programme cover is one of the most striking and engaging I have ever seen and the picture used in the pre-run publicity really grabbed my attention and made me want to see this show. Superb work whoever was responsible.
To summarise then, this production of “Romeo and Juliet” is really excellent. With its mixture of emotional depth and, surprisingly for a Shakespearean tragedy comedy, the production is engaging and mesmerising from start to finish and really brings the Bard to life for all generations.
Review by Terry Eastham
Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
adapted by Joshua Jewkes and presented by CandleFire Theatre
Two households and an ancient grudge have made Verona brutal and violent. But when forbidden love emerges through the bloodshed, can the young lovers hope to ascend the feud? Or will tragedy swallow them up? Think you know the story of the star-crossed lovers?
…Think again. In this unique version of Romeo and Juliet, CandleFire Theatre aim to challenge the pre-conceptions and traditional telling of Shakespeare’s most famous love story.
Tues 14 July to Sat 1 August 2015
Performances at 7.45pm
Tickets £14, £12 concessions
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre