The most obvious deviations from conventional Shakespeare are the stage setting, the modern dress and scaled-down cast (with eight actors covering all the parts). The stage is strewn with flowers, an assortment of colours bunched together in the shape of a heart and hanging from the frame of the set. The flowers, we are told in the programme, symbolise the different stages of the story as it unfolds. Oliver Wilson and Rachel Spicer play the two ‘star-cross’d lovers’, Wilson adopting a conventional, somewhat ‘safe’ take on Romeo, whilst Spicer’s Juliet has something of the bolshie love-struck teenager in her. The latter makes a refreshing change to the prevailing saintly impression of Shakespeare’s heroine. Indeed, Spicer’s performance, whilst not to the traditionalists’ tastes, no doubt, is notable for the way in which such a young actress (fresh out of Drama School) can offer such a confident and different rendition of one of the most famous Shakespearean parts in History. Interestingly, though, the depth of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is not at the forefront of this production. Instead, themes emerge that demonstrate the play’s enduring power and ability to encroach on modern society: divided classes; street crime; forbidden love; strained familial relationships and the pain of loss. What is more, it is the more secondary characters of the play that particularly make an impression. Benvolio and Mercutio, for example, played by Bryn Holding and Chris Lindon respectively, shine as the mischievous Montague cousins full of male bravado and bawdy wit. Louisa Eyo is brilliant as Juliet’s loving, loyal Nurse. The most moving scene, meanwhile, occurs at the discovery of the apparently dead Juliet, with Mary Rose as Lady Capulet capturing the mother’s grief with haunting profundity, whilst her guilt-stricken husband (played by William Travis) realises his faults too late.
The audience for tonight’s show is made up of a lot of school children, which is always encouraging to see. What is even more encouraging is the fact that this production is not afraid of trying out untested ideas for one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated plays and risking the wrath of Shakespearean purists.