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Review of Romeo and Juliet at the New Diorama Theatre

Romeo and julietThe Diorama is a lovely little theatre,well located near Euston, with an adaptable playing playing space, a charming staff and an atmosphere of welcome that warms the audience even in freezing weather. Their purpose is ‘to give opportunities to new companies,’ a prospect that always lifts the spirits, and their standards are professional, so an evening at the Diorama is certain to have something to recommend it.

Oh dear. As we filed in, the actors were ‘warming up’ – well, partly warming up and partly acting warming up, as actors do whenever an audience is present. I cringed from the deja vu of it – this is a device which was striking and ‘relevant’ in the olden days back in the sixties, but it has lost its intrigue value over time, does not make the audience feel involved in the performance, has nothing to do with Shakespeare and tells us nothing most people don’t already know about actors warming up. Also, it went on much too long; just as I was about to say aloud, ‘come on, get on with it,’ thank God they did.

The opening scene was played with a lovely burst of youthful energy and aggression that set the play firmly on the street with the lads in Verona, or Camden Town, and the family feud firmly in the present day, sort of. It was perhaps unfortunate that this version of the play led to comparisons with West Side Story, which did The Faction no favours.

Shakespeare’s genius means that he can support every interpretation. No matter how one chooses to interpret his plays, they retain the passion and beauty of the language and well done, even an apparently eccentric production can allow one to rediscover the splendours of the text. I have seen Shakespearean productions set in Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, Death Row, the American Deep South – you name it. I even saw a surprisingly touching production of the Tempest by schoolchildren. It always works, at least in parts, if the text is respected, because Shakespeare, let’s face it, knows everything.

I have one caveat; he asks that the actors speak the words clearly and audibly. The Faction concentrated on the physical – and did they ever: not one word was left ungestured, not one phrase undemonstrated and it was all so unremittingly physical that the poor little words shrank and trembled under the weight of movement, like a child browbeaten by musclebound giants.

Some of it was effective; the fights, the ongoing clan hostility, even the constant physical demonstrations of every phrase although tedious, had moments of life and colour that worked well.

The acting was very uneven: Claire Latham as Juliet took the physicality of it all a bit too seriously. She wriggled, writhed and fainted in coils. I was reminded of a director’s famous note to a young actress: ‘Darling, don’t do something, just stand there.’ Her vocal range was also too narrow for full expression of Juliet’s emotions.

Christopher York’s Romeo had a likeable simplicity, he spoke clearly and while not exactly possessing any great quality of romantic excitement, seemed like a nice boy and his death was touching. The two outstanding performances were Tom Brownlee as Paris and Kate Sawyer as the nurse; they both paid respect to stress and tempo and allowed their physicality to enhance rather than destroy the poetry. Mr Brownlee was brilliant as the sort of man one’s parents like and oneself makes excuses not to go out with, despite his money and (undoubtedly) his flash car. I sensed his self satisfaction and his puzzlement that with all these wonders he still hadn’t got a girl. As for Ms Sawyer, I cannot imagine any actress suggesting such layers of character and intention with a single nibble of a marshmallow. She also had a wonderful moment when she suddenly broke down and wept at the news of Juliet’s death. It was a shocking change of pace, heart wrenchingly believable and pulled the production into a perfect balance.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this production, but the extreme focus on the physical oddly destroys the drama of the story. There was just too much movement altogether. Even the background actors looked as if they were in a modern dance production of Street Scene.

The energy in Shakespeare comes from the language and it’s fine to set it elsewhere or play it standing on one’s head, but whatever one does, I repeat, the energy must spring from the language and not, as in this pretentious production, be imposed upon it. The Faction are doing a season of three plays at the Diorama. The other two plays are not by Shakespeare and might suit the company better.

2 gold stars

Review by Kate Beswick

Romeo and Juliet
Two families continue their ancient and violent feud.
A stroke of fate – and a raucous party – leads a forbidden relationship to blossom as Romeo and Juliet are unable to resist their desire for each other. Shakespeare’s star crossed lovers are synonymous with young love. Conflict, passion and heartbreak burst out of this legendary text.

The Faction brings its hallmark intensity, vigour and invention to this bold new production which opens their 2015 Rep Season

PART OF THE FACTION’S 2015 REP SEASON
Tuesday 6th January – Saturday 28th February 2015
http://newdiorama.com/whats-on

Thursday 29th January 2015

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