I read with interest recently that in Shakespeare plays, both now and when they were first performed, that it is rare for a character to be seated. Notable exceptions include a ruler, for example in Richard III, Act IV Scene II, where a stage direction stipulates, “Here he ascendeth the throne”, or the banquet scene (Act III Scene IV) in Macbeth. What is immediately striking to the audience filing in for this production of Romeo and Juliet is the total absence of anything in the way of set. No projected images, not even a chair.
The relatively large performance space felt somewhat underused at times; perhaps some tweaking to the stage lighting would help to focus in on characters in smaller scenes where fewer people are on stage. The lack of set in this production draws the audience in to pay attention to the dialogue and soliloquies all the more intently. There isn’t even any fake blood to relish, or recoil from. It’s almost all about the text.
I say ‘almost’, as the first half is liberally sprinkled with the sort of music some people enjoy in a nightclub, though people like yours truly, not being a club reveller, are likelier to hear tunes like these in a minicab. This production goes at a swift pace – perhaps too swiftly. For me, some of the lines were rushed through. And with this most cosmopolitan and diverse cast all speaking in their natural accents (a striking on-stage representation of twenty-first century London if ever there was one), I found myself constantly adjusting to various speeds and manners of speaking. But honestly, while it may have been a tad exhausting, it was a most delightful experience.
Some scenes have been truncated, some lines altogether skipped – the one that I would have chortled at had it been kept in, “How art thou out of breath, when thou hast breath / To say to me that thou art out of breath?” , was gone. The so-called ‘balcony scene’ took place at ground level, just as it would have done in Shakespeare’s day. I won’t go into too much detail here, but the balcony was a later insertion to the play, made famous by David Garrick (1717-1779).
This is, then, to coin a phrase, ‘back to the future’, as the play is transported to modern day Camden while restoring aspects more in keeping with the play as it was centuries ago. The resetting will, invariably, put some people off – and I had my own fears about it too, particularly recalling the 1996 motion picture directed by Baz Luhrmann, which, like this production, was given a contemporary makeover. That film had some bizarre moments, notably where ‘swords’ are spoken of but handguns are brought out instead. Here, the use of blades is troubling: with knife crime a continuing problem in the capital, the well-executed fight scenes are, whether deliberate or not, a stark commentary on the darker side of inner London night life. Elsewhere, the light from a mobile telephone acting as a ‘torch’ is both odd and ingenious.
I absolutely loved the portrayal of the Apothecary (Curt Brown) as a hustling drug-dealer, altogether plausible. Max Digby Carpenter plays a sublime and lively Romeo, while Martin Balanow’s Friar Lawrence was a perfectly convincing depiction of an older priest struggling to retain his train of thought after a long day. Look out, too, for a most unsubtle tribute to an iconic music video and a long-running West End show, adding yet another layer to this dazzling and vibrant production.iconic music video and a long-running West End show, adding yet another layer to this dazzling and vibrant production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Shakespeare for a Camden audience!!
The Acting Gymnasium returns to Theatro Technis with this production, set in club culture, of the greatest love story ever told. This is Shakespeare like you’ve never seen before.
A 4 play mini-rep season comprising revivals of two earlier productions – Romeo & Juliet and Three Sisters – and two new productions from my Saturday/Wednesday groups, Platonov and Lady Windemere’s Fan.
13th – 26th February 2017