ROMEO AND JULIET
Derby Theatre, Tuesday 16th June, 2015
A large, mirrored circle is suspended above a stage that is bare apart from a roundabout, the kind you used to see in children’s playgrounds. Meanwhile, a sound effect plays continuously: a wheel going around, or a giant’s game of roulette, or someone roller-skating in circles… Whatever it is, it gets old pretty quickly. It, and other loud and menacing sounds, recur when something portentous is happening. Enough with the sound effects already!
It’s a shame because this plucky cast speak Shakespeare’s verse – much of it rhyming – with clarity and ease, bringing naturalism and truth to the characters in the somewhat contrived tragic circumstances. They don’t need drowning out.
Also, while I’m at it, there is a row of spotlights along the back that shine directly into the audience’s faces. Again and again. Ouch.
These things are annoyances rather than enhancements to what the actors are doing.
Director Polina Kalinina ditches the prologue, thereby losing some of the inevitability of events; in its place we get a song from Cymbeline – until the FX drown it out.
All this aside, this is a cracking, entertaining production from Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory. Paapa Essiedu is an appealing Romeo, imbued with a lively sense of humour. We fall for him straight away. Juliet (Daisy Whalley) does not have the same immediate impact but, by the balcony scene, I have warmed to her. She has a tendency to gallop through her lines somewhat – the impatience of youth, I suppose – but could do with reining it in at times to allow us to enjoy her longer speeches.
Sally Oliver’s Nurse is stylish but dim, funny and touching. The excellent Oliver Hoare’s bohemian Mercutio fills the stage with banter and bawdy gestures – when he is killed, even though you may know it is coming, it is a truly shocking moment. The violence matches the passion of the love scenes – and the roundabout is utilised well, its handrails dismantled for weapons. The wheel of Fortune, indeed.
Fiona Sheehan and Timothy Knightley as Juliet’s mum and dad do grief-stricken very well, while Alan Coveney’s Prince has a measured authority. Paul Currier’s Friar Laurence is a quiet man, devastated by his part in the tragic events, and the rest of the cast support with unrelenting energy and style.
It’s a good-looking production, with 1960s costumes (by Emma Bailey) even if the sound effects and music are a little out of joint. Polina Kalinina keeps things cracking along, navigating the play’s mood swings effectively. Even though I know Shakespeare’s play very well, I find I am still amused, shocked and moved in all the right places.