Review - Romeo & Juliet

But soft, what review through yonder window breaks? Tony Cross watched The Globe's production of Romeo & Juliet...

This is a terrible production of one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays. It is as if director Daniel Kramer saw Emma Rice’s brilliant production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from last year’s Globe season (read Tony's review of that HERE) and decided to do that kind of thing but more so.

It’s busy, loud and resolutely unpoetic. It’s a director with a bee in his bonnet trampling all over a play because of a pet theory. None of his choices add anything to our understanding of Romeo & Juliet. If anything, they strip away everything and leave this a production of Romeo & Juliet without any heart.

Perhaps that is a little harsh. Kramer’s decision to run a couple of scenes together does make for interesting moments.

But every minute that passed made me yearn for simplicity. I remembered Peter Brook’s words about – and I paraphrase loosely – all you need is a space and an actor and you have a play. I started to long for a bare stage, casual clothes and actors allowed to bring the poetry in Shakespeare’s words to life, rather than being forced to shout them over music.

It is actors I feel sorry for in the hands of a director with a big IDEA. They do their best. Kirsty Bushell is a fine actor but her Juliet is reduced to being a spoiled brat. There’s a brilliant Juliet in there struggling to get out but, like Tara Fitzgerald’s Lady Macbeth in last year’s Globe production of Macbeth, she was hamstrung by a lack of subtlety. A similar thing applies to Edward Hogg Romeo who is characterised as a sulky Goth from the off. Again, as with Bushell, there are moments of brilliance from Hogg but the heavy-handedness of the director’s approach hammers everything into a pancake of shouting prose.

The decision to cast Golda Rosheuval as Mercutio almost works too. It potentially changes the dynamic of the relationship between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio (Jonathan Livingstone, who is brilliant btw. My favourite performance in the play.) But she’s forced to do the Queen Mab speech at full pelt and – for me – it dies.

Then there’s Ricky Champ’s Tybalt. A performance that seems to be based on Alexei Sayle’s acting in The Young Ones. Perhaps I’m getting old but I longed for a bit of simplicity and subtlety but couldn’t find much in this play where characters carry guns – which must stand in for swords and poisons because they must – and dance to YMCA. Baz Luhrmann has a lot to answer for.

All these things are a matter of opinion of course but I really didn’t enjoy this. It did make me think that Romeo & Juliet’s structure isn’t far off being a farce rather than a tragedy, but perhaps that’s part of the point. I find it hard to like Romeo or Juliet. They fall in a love so deep that they think it is worth dying for instantly. And this is after Romeo has been moping about Rosalind who was the woman he previously loved. Like Cathy and Heathcliff, Romeo and Juliet have a lot to answer but perhaps young love truly does feel like that?

I suspect this will still sell out. And last night was packed with school/tourist parties so perhaps this production will reach them in exactly the way it totally failed to reach me (or the incredibly bored and talkative German/Austrian students sat behind me who talked through the second half despite multiple requests from those around them to shush.) But I’m a believer in the power of just Shakespeare’s words combined with actors. Romeo and Juliet doesn’t need all the wanky intellectual frippery that Daniel Kramer brings to this production. It is, whatever my feelings about Romeo and Juliet themselves, filled with poetry which deserves to be heard. Perhaps that should be the first principle of any Shakespeare production: the words matter.

Romeo & Juliet run until Sunday 9th July.

To book tickets visit The Globe website.

Images - Shakespeare's Globe

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