ROMEO AND JULIET
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 20th June, 2018
Erica Whyman’s new production of Shakespeare’s evergreen tragedy has a contemporary if abstract setting. Her Verona is a place of rusting plate metal, with a multi-purpose construction at the centre, a hollow cube providing a raised level (the balcony) and an interior (the Friar’s cell). It’s a stark and grim place against which the heightened emotions of the hot-blooded citizens are played out. It’s a world of hoodies and sweatshirts, skinny-fit jeans – in fact, when it begins, the Prologue is shared by a chorus of youngsters and it’s all a bit performing arts college. The casting is diverse and gender fluid, reflecting the UK today, supposedly, in order that youngsters coming to the play fresh will recognise themselves in the characters… What is unrecognisable about this on-trend milieu is the lack of mobile phones, the prism through which young people view the world and each other.
The design choices I can’t take to, but the acting is in general very good and in parts excellent. Bally Gill’s Romeo is flighty and cocky – Whyman brings out the humour of him, so we take to him immediately, and he is more than a match for Charlotte Josephine as Mercutio, traditionally the ‘funny one’. Josephine’s mercurial Mercutio is a ladette, with all the swagger and voice patterns of a cheeky teenage shoplifter on Albert Square. It’s a very yoof-oriented performance, at odds with the accents and mannerisms of the rest of the gang.
Karen Fishwick’s Juliet has a Scottish brogue and is brimming with the youthful passion of a teenager in love. She and Gill are a good match. As Capulet, Juliet’s dad, Michael Hodgson is a little too staccato in his anger, while his Mrs (Mariam Haque) is steely-eyed and steadfast in her lust for vengeance. Raphael Sowole is an imposing Tybalt – his fatal scrap with this Mercutio pushes the show’s fluid approach to casting to the limit, making Tybalt seem dishonourable in my view. Later, he and other dead characters creep inexorably across the stage, like zombies playing Grandmother’s Footsteps – initially an effective idea but it becomes distracting from the main event at Juliet’s bier.
Andrew French is a wise and sympathetic Friar Laurence, but it is the magnificent Ishia Bennison who comes off best in a hilarious characterisation of the Nurse, perfectly delivering her sauciness, her garrulousness, alongside her deep-felt affection for Juliet.
There is much to enjoy and appreciate here, more than compensating for the decisions that don’t quite pay off. Sophie Cotton’s original compositions are contemporary and atmospheric, and Charles Balfour’s starry lighting beautifies the industrial setting.
If the production does speak to the young members of the audience, perhaps it says something to them about knife crime and partisan gang culture. To us slightly older others, it’s a strong rendition of an old favourite, with some hit-and-miss ideas, and some pulsating, bass-heavy dance music that can’t be over too soon.
Karen Fishwick and Bally Gill (Photo: Topher McGrillis © RSC )
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew French, Bally Gill, Charles Balfour, Charlotte Josephine, Erica Whyman, Ishia Bennison, Karen Fishwick, Mariam Haque, Michael Hodgson, Raphael Sowole, review, Romeo and Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, RSC, Sophie Cotton, Stratford upon Avon, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Theatre Review
DIANA OF DOBSON’S
New Vic Theatre, Saturday 7th May, 2016
Written in 1908 by Cicely Hamilton, this forward-thinking piece is given a lively revival by the team at the New Vic. It begins in the dormitory of Dobson’s store, where the shop girls are getting ready for bed. One of them, the rebellious Diana (Mariam Haque) decries their lot and the starvation wages they are forced to accept. She’s a firebrand and ahead of her time. But then she gets news of a surprise inheritance – things turn a bit Spend, Spend, Spend when she decides to blow the lot during a month of living entirely for pleasure. She winds up at a posh hotel in Switzerland where she is accepted among the toffs, as long as she gives the impression that there is plenty of moolah in her coffers.
With music hall songs interpolated between scenes, Abbey Wright’s likable production creates an Edwardian feel – not least due to Lis Evans’s design work with costume and set. There is a chirpiness that runs through the show – from Rosie Abraham’s perky Miss Jay, to Kate Cook’s bright-eyed and grasping Mrs Cantelupe. It has an authentic feel – the songs really help convey the sense of period. I particularly enjoyed Brendan Charleson’s nouveau riche Jabez, Anne Lacey’s Mrs Whyte-Frazer (along with a couple of other roles that demonstrate versatility) and the sterling support from Susannah Van Den Berg, Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Claire Greenway. Adam Buchanan shines as well-to-do wastrel Victor, who learns what is truly valuable in this life, and the superlative Andrew Pollard shows us all how it’s done with a delicious song to close the first half, a kind of Sweet Transvestite meets The Lumberjack Song, through the prism of the Edwardian Music Hall. Absolutely delightful. Pollard also displays his strengths as a character actor with a warm portrayal of a bobby on the beat.
Unfortunately, the fun and engagement engendered by the songs is not always present in the action. I find myself interested in the social commentary and the politics rather than affected by Diana’s exploits or her plight. I think it’s because the leading lady sounds like she comes from another time – she’s a bit too 21st century in her tone and plays it all on the same level. A bit more light and shade, and a bit more sparkle and pluck might make us fall in love with her a little bit. Instead, I find I just don’t care.
Yes, the play still – unfortunately – has much to say to us today in these times of the so-called living wage and the slavery of ‘work fare’ but what I come away from it with is an admiration for the ensemble and a rekindled appreciation of the songs of the day.
Rosie Abraham (left) and Mariam Haque (centre)
Leave a comment | tags: Abbey Wright, Adam Buchanan, Andrew Pollard, Anne Lacey, Ceri-Lyn Cissone, Cicely Hamilton, Claire Greenway, Diana of Dobson's, Kate Cook, Lis Evans, Mariam Haque, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, review, Rosie Abraham, Susannah Van Den Berg | posted in Theatre Review