The miners’ strike of 1984/1985 was an incredibly long and bitter fought war between the government of the day and the workers and by early 1985, miners were doing the unthinkable and crossing the picket lines to return to work. This action had massive repercussions for the mining communities, leading to intense and vicious feuds as family turned on family. What better setting than this then for Immersion Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet currently playing at the Brockley Jack Studio.
Outside a mine in Verona, the pickets are waiting patiently chatting to each other when suddenly the atmosphere changes as Tybalt Capulet (Harry Anton) arrives, dressed for another day down the mine. Words are exchanged with Benvolio (James G Nunn) and Mercutio (Dan Dawes), striking miners of the Montague family and a fight ensues until stopped only by the arrival of the boys in blue in the shape of The Prince (James Sanderson) who warns the warring families that he will accept no more fighting on the streets. The crowd disperses leaving Mercutio and Benvolio to stand together wondering where Benvolio’s cousin Romeo (Clive Keene) is. Eventually the young man arrives and is chided by his friend and kinsman for his lateness in joining the picket. Meanwhile, at the Capulet’s, the lady of the house (Rochelle Parry) is preparing for a party aided by her young daughter Juliet (Simone Murphy) and nurse (Roseanna Morris). Visiting Lady Capulet is Paris (Harry Anton) who is hoping to marry Juliet. Outside, the Montague’s have found out about the party and decided to crash it so that Romeo can see Verona’s finest ladies in all their glory.
During the party, Romeo and Juliet lock eyes and, for both, Cupid’s arrows hit their target first time as the young pair prove that love at first sight really does exist. Coming from opposing families, and with Paris’ proposal being favoured by her mother, can Juliet and Romeo find a way to make their love work or will the tensions generated by the strike stop these star crossed lovers from ever finding true happiness?
I have to say that the idea of setting Romeo and Juliet during the miners’ strike was inspired. The animosity caused by that highly divisive slice of British working history has never really gone away and still exists in some parts of the country today. Reading the Director’s (James Tobias) notes, it was interesting that he believes Tybalt is often viewed as a villain. I have to admit I’ve never looked at him like that. I’ve always thought of him, rather like the Montague boys as just another hot-head who allows his family honour to overcome his good sense. However, in this production, Tybalt is brilliantly portrayed by Harry Anton as the only man and breadwinner in the Capulet household who has made the decision to break the strike as the only means of supporting his family. A wonderful idea that works very well.
One thing that does not work well with this production is the smoke machine. I can understand the use of smoke to add to an atmosphere but the machine seemed to be going overboard when I saw the show. The Brockley Jack is a lovely small and intimate theatre and the amount of smoke generated seemed to be out of proportion to the size of the stage area. Having said that, there were really no other negatives in this version of Romeo and Juliet. The two leads really looked as if they had met and fallen in love – and Juliet in particular had a lovely smile on her face from the moment she met the handsome Romeo until the world around her started collapsing. Simone and Clive make an adorable couple and it’s more upsetting than normal when the ending comes along. Also worth a mention are James and Dan as Benvolio and Mercutio and who brought some wonderful comedic moments to the first act – particularly when leaving the Capulet’s party – and kept the audience in stitches. I’m also going to mention Movement Director Jess Mack who I’m assuming was responsible for some of the most realistic fight scenes I have seen for a long time. I also want to mention Rochelle Parry’s Lady Capulet who went from happy mother of a beautiful daughter to tortured soul trying and failing to keep herself together despite everything occurring around her. A marvelous piece of acting.
Overall then, this production of Romeo and Juliet really worked for me. I loved the idea of moving the time and location – though I would have changed Tybalt’s surname to be Scabulet – to the miners’ strike and I thought he acting was pretty impressive all the way through. Both my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves from the moment we entered and saw the highly impressive set, until the final curtain call and you can’t say fairer than that.
Review by Terry Eastham
Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Immersion Theatre
Directed by James Tobias
Inspired by the Kent miners’ strike, this tragic story of forbidden love and bitter rivalry is relocated to 1980’s England and promises to be a gritty and highly accessible spectacle infused with heart-break, danger and comedy. Immersion Theatre are thrilled to be returning to the Jack Studio Theatre for a one week, strictly limited run of their exhilarating adaptation of William Shakespeare’s iconic, Romeo and Juliet, currently touring the UK.
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road
London SE4 2DH
Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th October, 2015