Eileen Caiger Gray reviews ROMEO AND JULIET at SHEFFIELD CRUCIBLE
Picture fair Verona, where two noble families feud and a sweet, poignant romance turns inevitably to deep tragedy. Now bring in a telegraph pole, black bin bags, a litter of beer cans and polystyrene food trays, chipboard steps and towering corrugated metal sheets.
Add characters dressed in a motley array of 1970s/80s clothing – tatty jeans and jog-pants, dangling shirts, patterned frocks, belted jumpsuit, suits with waistcoats or braces, who speak in shifting accents of Yorkshire, Scouse, Welsh, Irish and clearly entoned RP. Et voila – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
This is a love story that transposes well in time and location, of course, as in the Di Caprio film or West Side Story, where total consistency and engagement are maintained. Overall, the disparate elements don’t gel in this production, which feels, too often, rough, rushed and loud, so that the beauty of the language and the delicate blossoming of feelings and impending tragedy are lost. Still, some things work well.
In both comic and tragic situations, Rachel Lumberg inhabits fully the character of the ample Nurse, engaging, likeable, believable, her use of cigarette, cocktail, and small battery fan bringing extra laughs. Simon Manyonda’s earnest, garrulous fast-talker Mercutio is another pleaser (and not just when emerging from the sauna in his boxers) whilst Joshua Miles’ Peter is a fine (though not strictly necessary) comic creation: like a doubly camped up, long-haired, bespectacled Alan Bennett in suit and waistcoat, he appears in different scenes with loo brush and plunger, towering toilet rolls, and a leaf blower that blows fast-food debris from the thrust stage to the feet of the front row!
While the County Paris is a nerdy twit in checkered suit, Lord and Lady Capulet have also slipped down market, more in the Royle vein than the royal (a little hard to assimilate into the context), their masked ball being a beer-can fuelled revelry at a shabby club. The typically tyrannical Tudor father, Lord Capulet, has become a frighteningly dishevelled, violent, thuggish bully as played by Michael Hodgson. The Montagues are a bit smarter, while Tybalt is slain sporting a sky-blue three-piece suit. Friar Lawrence, played by Charlie Bate, is now a (mainly loud and angry) young female vicar.
Morfydd Clark and Freddie Fox star as the star-crossed lovers. The initially inebriated Romeo seems always more aware of himself and the delivery of his own words than of Juliet and more lust-struck than love-struck. No real feel of tender romance hangs in the air, nor does any palpable feeling of true, long-standing hostility between the families. Most of the time, everything’s so rushed, there’s no time to linger over invisible things like feelings. Welsh-toned Juliet does eventually win us over a little when, ironically, once alone in her tomb and about to die, she seems more real and alive than before.
It’s disappointing that delicacy and subtlety of feeling seem to have been downplayed in favour of over-hyped comedic opportunities and lots of shouting. T
he majority of the actors are young and inexperienced in Shakespeare, but if director Jonathan Humphreys had them relax more into their roles and take the time to allow their emotions, and the language, to gently breathe, flower and develop, a good deal more chemistry might flow. Eileen Caiger Gray
The play continues at the Crucible until Oct 17th