Romeo and Juliet examines young people failed by those who should support them; SquidInk’s setting, a failing women’s prison, sharpens the context. It also turns standard Shakespeare on its head by casting mostly women, with just a few men, to flirt and cause trouble.
Mob boss Imogen Edwards-Lawrence (Capulet) in sharkish lipstick and sequinned hoodie, dominates and deals, acting as father and mother to her mess of jumpy kinsmen. By contrast, the Montagues seem low and withdrawn; Libby Taylor is standout as a depressed and anxious Benvolio. But they do have a golden child in Mercutio (Lucy McIlgorm, charismatic and psychotic), the maddest fighter in HMP Verona and a cut above her fellow inmates. The Capulets field a stressed and stabby child – Tybalt, captured brilliantly by Lara Deering as less prince of cats, more sixth-form psycho, ultimately distraught at killing her adored crush and frenemy. Able meddling comes from Nancy Case as a burnout female vicar, and old lag Gaby Kaza is fantastic as Nurse, Juliet’s bunkmate and Capulet’s lewd lieutenant. But it is Lorelei Piper's Romeo, a brittle whip of lethal romantic intensity, and Emelye Moulton's Juliet smashed sideways by the force of first love, who melt the stage in an absolute thermonuclear explosion of adolescent desire. Around them, the unconcerned incarcerated deliver disaster by unconsidered text message, random shivs and drug deals. The panopticon setting allows exploration of complicity, particularly for Paris (Joe Woodman).
The production is raising money for Acción Interna - it was their version of Romeo and Juliet in a Colombian women’s prison which inspired this show. We see views of this production in the first scene, projected as the backdrop to a stage filled with barbed wire, broken furniture, crowd barriers, and scaffolding. Its clearest echo comes in the final scene, where the Prince’s statement of peace from tragedy to his desolate, bereaved prisoners seems inevitably and hopelessly doomed.