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.
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.