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Romeo and Juliet at The Barbican, London | Review

Romeo and Juliet - Photo by Topher McGrillis.
Romeo and Juliet – Photo by Topher McGrillis.

Romeo and Juliet is, despite its popularity, a tricky play. There are a number of difficulties in the script which mark out better performances from, well, bad ones. First, Romeo’s arrival at the Capulet’s party is engineered by an illiterate letter postman. So what if someone can’t read, you might say. Then, there’s the almost implausible passion of our main players, R +J; their meeting at the Capulet’s party to their marriage occurs in about 20 minutes onstage. Well, that’s just love, you might say. Then there’s (spoiler) Romeo’s death as precipitated by a faulty postal system. Well… ok, you might say.

Erica Whyman’s interpretation of the star-crossed lover’s epic updates the setting to contemporary Britain, maybe London. With a wonderfully diverse cast, actors are allowed to insert accented mannerisms into their delivery. Despite some quite lazy costumes decisions, the feel is very much of a current play in a current setting.

Mercutio (somewhat overplayed by Charlotte Josephine) jokes with Tybalt about fighting, but the quarrel becomes suddenly tense and the families assemble battle lines. Ayse Tashkirin’s choreography reminds us that this is a play about divisions and tribalism as much as it is about young love. But the wry decision to cast Benvolio (Josh Finan) as having a bit of a crush on Romeo also keeps in mind the confusion and passions that fly around Verona on a drunken night.

Michael Hodgson, as Lord Capulet, gives an absolute stand-out performance. Coming off the back of his highlight as the Porter in last week’s Macbeth, Hodgson speaks verse fluently, strikes the balance between a domestic abuser and misguided loving father. He plays posh partier without slipping into crowd-pleasing comedy. A pleasure to watch.

And what of Juliet, and her Romeo? Bally Gill makes the decision to retain some of the likeability of Romeo – an unusual decision because Romeo’s vain and somewhat self-obsessed – and this plays well against the wise beyond her years Karen Fishwick. Initially, Romeo is given much of the stage time, but as their fate draws closer, it is Juliet who philosophises on luck and ill fortune. Fishwick strikes a balance between the 14-year-old lover and hesitant young wife.

So far so merry. But Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, and the magic is in finding the transition from amour to anarchy. Here, Whyman’s production stumbles. The set, initially just boring, becomes a hassle, as cast members have to move it around between every scene. Gill’s Romeo drops most of his mannerisms and charm in favour of shouting. Tybalt shouts all of his lines, start to finish; and Mercutio punctuates every other line with a hip thrust. Overall, the production lacks a sense of coherence, which would smooth over the plot issues, and speed our fateful lover’s path to heaven.

3 Star Review

Review by Thomas Froy

The Royal Shakespeare Company returns to the Barbican this autumn with a contemporary London Season comprising three of the playwright’s most loved titles: Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

RSC Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman follows her incredible 2016 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation with the violent and devastating tragedy Romeo and Juliet. As in 2016, this production will see young people from RSC Associate Schools perform alongside the professional actors in the cast.

What if your first true love was someone you’d been told to hate?

Set in a world very like our own, this Romeo and Juliet is about a generation of young people born into violence and ripped apart by the bitter divisions of their parents. The most famous story of love, at first sight, explodes with intense passion and an irresistible desire for change, but leads all too quickly to heart-breaking consequences.

RSC Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman returns to the Barbican following her acclaimed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation (2016) with Bally Gill and Karen Fishwick as the star-crossed lovers in this violent and devastating tragedy.

Romeo and Juliet: 2 NOVEMBER 2018 – 19 JANUARY 2019

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