Romeo and Juliet (The Courtyard Theatre, w/c 17th May 2010)

In the final episode of  the television series ‘Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes’, we learnt that everyone was dead after all.  Sam Tyler and Alex Drake had been catapulted back in time into a kind of purgatory which resembled an old-fashioned cop drama.  Gene Hunt had been shot dead as a young policeman on the beat on coronation day.  He couldn’t accept his death, so he set up a fictional world for other dead police officers who had issues that needed to be resolved before they entered The Railway Arms, which was a kind of gateway to heaven.  I felt that there was something of this Ashes to Ashes style lingering in the world of the dead in the current Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Romeo and Juliet.  Romeo is a tourist that finds himself caught up in his own story, and it is a story that plays out over and over again, always ending with Romeo’s suicide.   
 

When I was in Stratford not so long ago, I was lucky to see two versions of this production.  One with the understudy, Dyfan Dwyfor, playing Romeo and then again with Sam Troughton playing Romeo.  In the first version, I saw a cautious Romeo, who was a little self conscious of himself as he found himself caught up in the violent renaissance world.  In the second version, I saw a very different Romeo that easily slotted into this world.

As the auditorium is opened up to the audience to enter, in the foyer we can hear monks chanting.  When the play is about to start, the audience are sat in a gloomy auditorium.  The set is black  with a rose window reflected onto the stage.  It feels like we are in a cathedral and the inner stage is a chapel lit by candles.  These black and amber contrasts work throughout the production and are stunning.  They are achieved through flowers, masks, and flames that flicker on the back of the stage at particular moments in the production.  The play begins with the entrance of a Museum Guide (Noma Dumezweni), who whilst looking rather stern-faced asks us to switch off our mobile phones. This framing device presents the theatre as a museum space and suggests that what we will see might be an exhibit in a museum. As the guide leaves the stage, Romeo enters with his camera and audio guide.  As he works through the difference language options,  he finally selects the English language facility and the prologue is played over the speakers.  As this is happening, the Capulets and Montagues emerge from the back of the stage  in slow motion and doused in smoke.  This filmic device is very effective and suddenly the play explodes onto the stage.  

 

The two central characters are really well played.  Juliet (Mariah Gale) is rebellious, and  when we meet her she is a bit of a moody teenager,  swinging her glow stick with vigour as if this action is an act of defiance against her elders.  In the first half of the play, I felt that Romeo plays at being in love.  Troughton brings out this aspect so well, particularly in the balcony scene where is crouches in the centre vomitorium saying his lines as if acting as if he was still outside this play.  On the night that I went, Troughton moved from the vomitorium to sit on the vacant seat next to me to speak his lines, and for me that emphasised the feeling that he was also an observer of the play, as well as a character in it.   

Jonjo O’Neill’s Mercutio is a showman and the acting is totally over the top, which makes it a fantastic performance and for me one of the delights of the production.  The dyed blonde hair is a nice touch.  The audience really loved this performance and gasped when they realised that Mercutio was hurt and was about to die.    Mercutio sometimes straddles the contemporary space that Romeo has come from enters Romeo’s dream/death world riding  Romeo’s bicycle onto the stage.

It feels like death really does walk into this play. The ghost of Tybalt  walks up to Juliet’s tomb.  Lady Capulet (Christine Entwisle)  is distraught by Tybalt’s death, but can pull herself together for the wedding.   At the end Juliet screams when she is stabs herself. 

There are very strong performances from Noma  Dumezweni as the nurse and Forbes Masson as the priest as the adults who should protect the young people but let them down badly. Richard Katz is excellent as Juliet’s violent father.  His performance is a lovely contrast to his great comic portrayal of Touchstone in As You Like It.

I felt that the  current RSC production is exciting, energetic, and gripping.  I think that this is probably the best production coming out of the current RSC ensemble, and that was a surprise for me, because I normally find the play a little tedious and though companies work hard at bringing out the tragedy it doesn’t always work for me.  I felt that this was the ensemble working well together and is a real success.

  
Further Information

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/romeo-and-juliet/

 
Reviews and Previews
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Guardian
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Telegraph
The Evening Standard on the RSC Romeo and Juliet
The Stage on the RSC Romeo and Juliet
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Independent
WOS RSC Romeo and Juliet

Dyfan Dwyfor Jonjo O'Neill Noma Dumezweni Richard Katz Romeo and Juliet RSC Rupert Goold Sam Troughton

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