Review: Romeo & Juliet, York Theatre Royal #kissbythebook

17 Sep
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THE raked stage is strewn with so many flowers as Lady Capulet (Mary Rose) visits the family morgue where her daughter Juliet???s body lies.

We begin at the end, the die already cast for the ???two hours??? traffick of our stage???, which for once sticks to those two hours. She will be the narrator, the play filtered through her eyes, as she delivers the prologue and the woeful final words too after the bloodshed of the feuding Montague and Capulet families.

Her dress goes from figure-hugging, party green to crimson red as soon as the deaths start to pile up. Marcus Romer and Katie Posner???s co-production for Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal is marked by such bold designs, symbolised by the flowers, gathered initially in a heart, being kicked aside.

The black frames of Chloe Lamford???s set are picked out by candles (another symbol of impermanence and life being snuffed out). Richard Howell???s blue rectangular lighting frames Juliet???s bed and the morgue; likewise, the lighting forms a golden cross to signify the abode of Friar Lawrence (Richard James-Neale).

This production is billed as a love story for the 21st century, and not only the star-cross???d lovers being played by a black and a white actor (Oliver Wilson???s Romeo and new RADA graduate Rachel Spicer???s Juliet) denote that status.

Rather than Verona, it could be anytown Britain, with a Scouse Mercutio (Chris Lindon) and a Caribbean Nurse (Louisa Eyo), while Neale???s Friar has not only hippy sandals but a tattooed arm.

Much like Baz Luhrmann???s 1996 film version, this is an ultramodern Romeo & Juliet, but theatrical rather than cinematic. Out go Pilot???s trademark multi-media flourishes; in comes traditional, flesh-and-blood, physical theatre strengths, allied to Sandy Nuttgens???s always appropriate music.

The cast is cut to eight, the Montague parents nowhere to be seen, and the dual roles provide striking opposites for Eyo as the outwardly subservient Nurse and decree-giving Prince; Neale as the fiery Tybalt and laidback Friar; and Lindon as the wordplay-spinning, strutting Mercutio and earnest suitor Paris.

Romeo & Juliet is the perfect Shakespeare play for Pilot with its target audience of teens. It has a restless energy, maybe too much so on press night, and moves from comedy, loud and lewd and sexually boisterous, to tragedy via the flowering of young love.

And what of the young lovers? Wilson???s lithe Romeo is no poetry-wafting softie; he is as much a lad as Bryn Holding???s Benvolio until struck by love.

Fresh out of drama school, Spicer???s Juliet is less consistent, losing momentum for a while in the second half. You sense her performances will change from night to night, still playing with vocal rhythms, finding herself, much like the teenage Juliet, but what a thrillingly physical performer she is already.

And look out for the one addition to the familiar text: Juliet???s response to her father doing a spot of embarrassing dad-dancing at the Capulet masked ball.

Romeo & Juliet, York Theatre Royal, until September 25, then on tour. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

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