Romeo and Juliet Theatre Royal Brighton, 23/10/08
Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has captivated many an audience with its highly charged romance, feuding families and violence, and now it is brought to the stage by Brighton director Neil Bartlett. He has most definitely injected something new and fresh into what is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.
When the curtain rose revealing the cast of twenty three boldly facing the audience, there was immediately a sense of a 1940s/1950s Italy evoked by the elegantly dressed women, and the suited men.
Kandis Cook’s bare set with exposed wings, revealed oppressive brick walls suggesting a dark, mafia controlled Italy. A bed was later wheeled on to represent Juliet’s bedroom, and was also used effectively as the balcony from which the famous exchange between the young star-crossed lovers takes place. In the final scenes the bed, surrounded by funeral railings, evoked a beautiful, yet chilling setting for Juliet’s tomb.
Bartlett used a live seven-piece band on stage to help create atmosphere, entwining music and dialogue to create maximum dramatic tension; for instance, the off-stage rumbling of a bass drum and a sharp noise accompanying the drawing of flick knives.
There were some extremely strong performances from a cast of whom many were making their RSC debuts. Gyuri Sarossy’s confident Mercutio worked well concluding with an effective rage-filled speech as he is slain by the menacing Tybalt played by Mark Holgate. Christopher Hunter exuded power as Lord Capulet, giving an energetic performance with great stage presence. There was a noticeable rapport amongst the men in both families, making their performances believable and exciting.
Then of course there were the two main characters, Romeo and Juliet, who fall desperately in love despite being from the two warring families of the Montagues and Capulets. Through his use of gesture and deliverance David Dawson’s Romeo had many a comic moment.
Although this caused much laughter in the audience, it detracted from the earnest passion that one associates with his character and that is needed in order for Juliet to plausibly fall in love with him. His best moments were the scenes between him and his fellow men where he presented us with a young, playful and believable Romeo.
Anneika Rose, who was standing in for an ill Laura Rees during rehearsals, gave a good performance but came across a little too strong to be a convincing innocent fourteen year old Juliet.
There were some lovely, moving moments between her and Julie Legrand’s likeable nurse but the relationship between her and Romeo at times lacked intimacy.
This performance successfully highlights some of the simplest yet most important aspects of the play; the brutal and tragic turns, and the patriarchy within the society.
Aside from questionable direction of the two leading roles, Neil Bartlett has certainly achieved a powerful production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and one has to give both him and the cast the greater credit for giving a new lease of life to a play that many believe has been exhausted of original possibilities.