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Romeo & Juliet By William Shakespeare at Katspace | Review

Romeo and JulietI do not consider myself to be particularly mischievous but even I relish a production that rankles purists from the outset. This one keeps certain events in Romeo and Julietin fair Verona”, except here, ‘Verona’ is a pier on the south coast (Brighton according to the programme, but frankly there isn’t a reason why it couldn’t be Eastbourne – the distinguishing factor being the pebbles that line the stage). The new setting is hardly problematic – we are, after all, talking about a play that was adapted to form the New York-based musical West Side Story.

Still, I found it a little odd that the Capulet clan now run a bar, unimaginatively titled Capulet Bar, with the family, from what I could work out, living upstairs in what estate agents refer to as ‘flats above shops’. The blank verse, as well as the prose, is spoken in working-class accents. It takes a little getting used to, not so much because of the distinct lack of received pronunciation but because of the speed in which it is delivered. It’s no wonder the show rattles through all five acts of the play in well under two and a half hours (including interval).

This is helped by some very quick scene changes and a generally slick production whose cast is clearly well-drilled and well-rehearsed. In a word, it’s tight – if the course of true love never did run smooth, then at least the production does. The costumes are appropriate for the revised setting and the fight scenes are convincing, especially when Tybalt (Alex Harvey) and Romeo (Teddy Morris) come to blows. One is always reminded of the Baz Luhrmann motion picture of this play, in which an invitation to draw swords was responded to by characters pulling out handguns instead. I’ve decided against revealing what they use here: too much of a spoiler, y’see.

The salient plot points happen as one might have expected them to occur in a more ‘traditional’ production – it’s remarkable how little has changed. Friar Laurence (Joe Bonfield), although adopting the look and presence of one of those younger and trendier vicars, still gives Juliet (Bebe Barry) a vial containing a special potion, which seems somewhat absurd in 1964 England. The year becomes important in the light of the final scene: the friar’s confession to the Prince (Alan Prile), unchanged from Shakespeare’s text, still holds true given the provisions of the Suicide Act 1961.

The use of 1960s music adds much atmosphere to the play, though it is sometimes difficult to hear the dialogue that is competing, for instance, with The Who’s ‘My Generation’. It was like two people talking at once and not being able to properly decipher either person. If only Lady Capulet (Radina Drandova) had been unleashed during such moments – she veered, for the most part, between two volume levels, what I call ‘loud’ and ‘very loud’, which made the character unnecessarily over-aggressive, like one of those angry contributors to BBC Television’s ‘Question Time’ who may or may not have some valid points to make, but whose incivility reduces the impact of their words.

Dependent on one’s vantage point, given the breadth of the performance space, it is possible to find yourself looking across from side to side as a conversation continues, rather like watching a ball’s movements during a tennis match. Juliet is given opportunities to voice her thoughts and intentions – the audience gets to know her far better than Romeo, or indeed anyone else in the play. Despite being a familiar plot, the production held my attention from start to finish. A worthwhile experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following the success of their Offie-nominated 5* production of Much Ado About Nothing, resident company Exploding Whale return to Katzenjammers’ main bierhall with this immersive and electric adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

The star-crossed lovers meet in the summer of 1964, Brighton beach is our Verona, Montagues are Mods and Capulets are Rockers. Youth rebellion, mopeds, sex, drugs, rock n roll and of course love, this pop-culture twist on the timeless tragedy will set the pulse racing and have the feet tapping.

Company Members: Romeo – Teddy Morris
Juliet – Bebe Barry
Mercutio – Billy Dunmore
Benvolio – Sarah J Lewis
Tybalt – Alex Harvey
Nurse – Lily Smith
Friar Laurence – Joe Bonfield
Paris – Julian Bailey-Jones
Prince – Alan Prile
Lady Capulet – Radina Drandova
Montague – Benjamin Sarpong
Directed by: Ben Woodhall
Produced by: Magela Benedetto

Exploding Whale present
Romeo & Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Ben Woodhall
Katzpace
Katzpace, 24 Southwark St, SE1 1TY
21st – 23rd & 28th – 30th July 2019

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