Wednesday, 6 May 2015

'Romeo & Juliet' at Shakespeare's Globe

If I'm smiling within a couple of minutes of a play starting then that must be a good sign. Is it the 500 year old language or the venue, or the packed theatre open to the elements with a chilly breeze, or the anticipation and need to see a play I've never seen performed? I don't know, but I was smiling and wanting this new production to be good - and it was!

This is one of the first productions in the Globe's 2015 season with the theme of 'Justice and Mercy' (last year focused on Shakespeare's Roman plays).  I'm seeing a few more productions over the summer including 'The Oresteia' by the up and coming playwright Aeschylus. No idea if he'll do well or not, but we'll see.

It's on tour around the country at the moment and the Globe is it's London stop. It's designed to fit almost anywhere and it was perfect for the Globe stage. The set was, essentially, a climbing frame to provide some height and a balcony (you've got to have a balcony for *that* scene) and the costumes were minimal, with (almost) everyone coming on in cream/white trousers and shirt and occasionally donning a coat or hat to show they were different characters. A small cast playing all the roles can be confusing sometimes and one of the cast played three different noblemen as well as a servant bumpkin!

This play is storytelling of a most superior kind. At one point during the play I wondered what this would be like with the magnificent poetry of 'Julius Caesar', and yes, there is some wonderful lyrical verse in this play, but to me, it's the story that draws you in with 'Romeo & Juliet' not the poetry. It's the plotting and construction of the play, the drip feed of elements of the tale as it progresses, the twists and turns that keep you rapt even though we all know how it ends. And this production did just that - it built the story slowly, it grew the characters, it took us on a journey that ends in heartbreak and death. It was touching and wonderful and deserved the great applause at the end.

The play is set in a mere four days in Verona and opens with a fight between the houses of Capulet and Montague and, later, a masked ball at the Capulet's palace that Romeo and his friends gatecrash. It's there that he sees Juliet and falls in love and sneaks back later to woo her. They fall in love at first sight and are secretly married the following day. Later that day there's another quarrel between the houses and Tybalt kills Mercutio, a close friend of Romeo's so Romeo must fight and kill Tybalt, who is Juliet's favourite cousin. Uh oh, I hear you say. It gets more complicated from there on with Romeo banished and Juliet assigned to marry a Capulet ally. What can our lovers do?

I thought the cast were great, particularly Samuel Valentine (is that his real name?) as Romeo and Cassie Layton as Juliet, along with Steffan Donnelly as the rather camp and aggressive Mercutio (and other roles).  Samuel and Cassie worked well together as our star-crossed lovers with only one night of love before death. They were very believable as young people in love, exuberant and touching at the same time - a lot of that is in the play but the actors need to bring it out. They will remain my Romeo and Juliet until I see a better production - and it'll need to be pretty damn startling to overtake this production.

The whole cast worked really well together as an ensemble but I don't understand why they all had various levels of tattoo on their bodies (and a lot of upper body was exposed on the men for some reason in the first half - must've been chilly in the cold and rain!). Some of the quick changes got a bit complicated with an actor walking off stage, changing coats and appearing as a different character but, ultimately, it worked. It was also quite nice to have a small cast and see them change character and style so quickly. My one complaint was making the illiterate Capulet servant a Geordie (I shall have words!).

If you get the chance to see this production, either at The Globe or on tour then I'd urge you to go and marvel at the tale of our young lovers And shed a tear.

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