Thursday, May 03, 2018

'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare

3 May 2018

The last play I saw directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Deputy Artistic Director, Erica Whyman, was ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation’ (reviewed here in May 2016) which featured local actors from amateur theatre companies playing the rude mechanicals alongside a professional RSC cast, with children from local schools playing Titania's fairies. So it was fascinating to see Erica Whyman building on this experience in her new production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which we saw at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on Tuesday. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a play about young people but I don’t think I have ever seen it performed with such a young cast: a host of excellent early career professionals made the lead parts incredibly believable while young people from schools across the UK added to the ensemble on stage. Juliet is supposed to be 13 years-old at the start of the play and, while she is a few years older than that, the young Scottish actor Karen Fishwick – who we had previously seen as one of the schoolgirls in Lee Hall’s ‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’ (reviewed here in May 2017) – did seem very young. Bally Gill as Romeo had a streetwise bravado coupled with youthful naivety that helped to explain his character’s rapid lurches between passion and violence. Setting this young cast in a very contemporary world made the knife fights between the rival young gangs feel frighteningly realistic. But the emphasis on youth strangely helped to show that the often disastrous actions of the young characters in the play are entirely understandable reactions to the situations in which they find themselves. It is the adults in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ whose actions are less excusable: it is their rush to support or condemn the youngsters that leads to tragedy. Erica Whyman interestingly also cast the adult parts with age-appropriate actors: it’s the first production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I have seen where both Montague and Capulet were younger than me! And this is a production that celebrates diversity in many ways, gender-swapping several characters and exploring sexuality and ethnicity. It was a confident, funny and thrilling production which felt completely gripping and it was wonderful to experience the reactions of the many young people in an enthralled audience.

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