Stratford Upon Avon, then London
Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare
RSC: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, then London
Runs: 2h 45m, one interval, to 19 January 2019 (Stratford then London)
Review: Rod Dungate, 17 April 2018
The full story is told, but we don’t get the full play
There is little doubt that Erica Whyman’s production of Romeo and Juliet is aimed at a young audience. It’s youthful, visually stimulating and full of energy; it scores full marks for all of this. Yet this is not the full story, what the production has in vigour it loses in text. The very best of the RSC productions never sacrifice the language of the play for the action, and to do this for young audiences is to patronise the young people.
It’s a shame; there are many excellent moments in this production, but the over-all felling you take away is one of frequent muddle and swaggering gesture.
Romeo and Juliet (Bally Gill and Karen Fishwick) are at the centre of the play. Gill’s Romeo is a likeable enough young man, vigorous and changeable; a boy who is not yet quite a man. Physically he is terrific, but when speaking it is as if there is a gap between the text and the character, so we are ever held at bay. Fishwick’s Juliet is lively and feisty, 21st Century attractive. She has a similar problem with the text, though, as the play progresses and the emotions deepen, she draws the text to her and her final scenes are accomplished. The real problem this all creates is that there is no spark between these two young people in their duologues; while we can appreciate their plight, we are not able to empathise with it.
Romeo and Julieta’s best scenes are with the Friar and the Nurse respectively. This is because Andrew French and Ishia Bennison have complete mastery over what they are saying. French creates a solid Friar, one, who for all is spirituality, you sense has worked in the world before entering Holy Orders. Bennison’s Nurse is a totally enchanting mix of wisdom and dottiness, the humour of the part flows naturally from her into the acting space.
The programme tells us that the play is about (among other things) knife crime and street violence, about machismo. It would seem perverse, then, that Whyman has chosen to gender change Mercutio, the most macho of the males. Slight Charlotte Josephine tries her best, but fights a losing battle with this character, reduced to empty posturing and swaggering – no threat to anyone. Perhaps she is aping the macho men; but if this is Mercutio where are the macho men to ape?
Whyman’s version tells the story with verve, but we miss the hot tension and emotion that makes the story tremble with imminent tragedy.
Paris: Afolobi Alli
Gregory: Donna Bunya
Sampson: Stevie Basoula
Nurse: Ishia Bennison
Sister John / Apothecary: Katy Britain
Peter: Raif Clarke
Escalus: Beth Cordingly
Montague: Paul Dodds
Benvolio: Josh Finan
Juliet: Karen Fishwick
Friar Laurence: Andrew French
Romeo: Bally Gill
Lady Capulet: Marion Haque
Capulet: Michael Hodgson
Mercution: Charlotte Josephine
Cousin Capulet: John Macoula
Balthasar: Tom Podley
Lady Montague: Sakuntola Rananee
Tybalt: Rophael Sawole
Abraham: Nima Taleghani
Director: Erica Whyman
Designer: Tom Piper
Lighting: Charles Balfour
Music: Sophie Cotton
Sound: Jeremys Dunn
Movement: Ayse Tashkiran
Fights: Kate Waters