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Romeo & Juliet at Waterloo East Theatre | Review

Romeo & Juliet at Waterloo East Theatre
Romeo & Juliet at Waterloo East Theatre

Where would the world be without William Shakespeare? For a start, the English language would be unrecognizable without his input. Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original. Plus there are the amazing stories he invented to entertain and inform. Truly young William was a great benefactor to mankind. I mention all of this because a new version of one of his most famous plays Romeo & Juliet has just opened at the Waterloo East Theatre.

At Verona Pride, The Capulet disco is the place to be. And tonight is especially important as Lord Capulet (Matt Betteridge) and his good lady wife (Faye Maughan) are welcoming the handsome Paris (Michael J. Ansley) as a potential suitor to their young daughter Juliet (Ashley Winter). Everyone who is everyone is in the biggest after-pride party in Verona. Well, actually not everyone for the Capulet family has an enemy in the town, the Montagues. The two families have been at war for as long as they can remember and the younger generation of Montagues – the beautiful Romeo (Carmella Brown), her cousin Benvolio (Andrew Armitage) and their friend, Mercutio (Kevin Kamara)nd kinsmen to Verona’s ruler Prince Escalus (Dylan Lincoln) – are always up for a fight and a bit of lady-wooing afterwards. Tonight, the Montague folks, heavily disguised, have snuck into the Capulet’s party. All goes well initially, even Juliet’s nurse (Olivia Thompson) manages to stop fussing over her ‘lamb’ and have a good time. Then suddenly Romeo spots Juliet and immediately loses her heart to the fair maiden. The two get together and realise that for each the other is the lodestar of their lives. As the two ladies fall in love, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Sadie Pepperell – who hates the Montagues with a passion – spots Romeo. Can Romeo and her kin escape unharmed? What will become of the love that has just burst to the surface between the daughters of these bitter foes?

Controlled Chaos Theatre Company have taken a bit of a leap of faith updating the original Romeo & Juliet to a modern era, setting it over the Pride season and making the two ‘star-crossed lovers’ both women. The good news is that it works. There is something about this story that makes it one of the most flexible of all Shakespeare’s plays so a same-sex couple works equally as well as a mixed gender one. The updating means that Costume Designer Florence Odumosu could have a lot of fun in clothing the cast. My absolute favourite piece was the illuminated coat worn by Juliet during the party – and I have to say the flashing glasses were excellent as well. Director Paul Anthony keeps everyone visible by having them sit by the sides of the empty stage when not taking part in the action, and that adds to the intensity of the show as it is being constantly watched from the sides as well as by the audience in front of the stage.

Romeo & Juliet at Waterloo East Theatre
Romeo & Juliet at Waterloo East Theatre

One of the other great touches to the direction, for me, is the amount of humour that has been interjected into the story and the way every last ounce of innuendo is screwed out of the prose to great effect. Kudos also to Fight Director Robin Heller who has made the fights very realistic. In fact, I overheard someone saying during the interval ‘It’s a bit violent isn’t it?’ demonstrating how much they had been drawn into the various scenes. Without giving too much away – in case there is anyone out there who doesn’t know the story – the various death scenes are extremely well played and look really good.

So, to the actors, we turn. There is a real chemistry between Carmella Brown and Ashley Winter, as Romeo and Juliet respectively, that make the intensity of the romance that blossoms between them feel realistic and believable. Both actors individually are extremely good and together make a formidable team. Other notable performances come from Kevin Kamara in the role of Mercutio. Kevin has a lovely delivery and a way of connecting with the audience so that even when he is utterly un-PC in his movements and words, you can forgive him, and enjoy his scene-stealing antics. I’ve always liked the character and never really understood why – spoiler alert klaxon – Shakespeare gets rid of him when he does. The rest of the cast were equally as good though occasionally there were issues with accents, particularly when speaking fast.

Presented as part of the pride in London festival, this was one of the best versions of Romeo & Juliet I’ve seen. The story moves well during the just over two hours playing time, and everyone puts a great deal of effort into bringing Shakespeare’s tale and wonderful words to life. This is a real example where it has been possible to make a triumph out of a tragedy.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

It is summertime, the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing and Pride is in full swing.
The streets are full and bustling with joyous revellers, but beneath these harmonious goings on a simmering age-old feud begins to come to the boil.
A violent brawl between the houses of Capulet and Montague re-opens the bitter rivalry of both families. On either side of the divide stand two young lovers who will risk all to be together. Will their union bring peace and unity to the warring clans or will they pay the ultimate price?

The Cast:
Michael J. Ansley ( Paris/Sampson ) – Ceri Ashe (Abraham/Peter/Balthasar) – Andrew Armitage (Benvolio) – Mat Betteridge (Lord Capulet) – Carmella Brown (Romeo) – Kevin Kamara (Mercutio) – Dylan Lincoln (Friar Laurence/Prince) – Faye Maughan (Lady Capulet ) – Elise Moorhouse (Gregory/Friar John ) – Sadie Pepperrell (Tybalt/Apothecary) – Olivia Thompson (Nurse/Montague) – Ashley Winter (Juliet)

The Creative Team:
Director -Paul Anthoney
Producers -Paul Anthoney & Dylan Lincoln
Assistant Director – Holly Mallett
Composer – Michael J. Ansley
Lighting Designer Chuma Embembolu

Controlled Chaos UK presents
Romeo & Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Tuesday 26 June to Sunday 8 July 2018

Listings Information
Waterloo East Theatre, Brad St, London SE1 8TN
https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk

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