ROMEO AND JULIET
By William Shakespeare
The Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS to 19 Jan 2019.
In Rep with Macbeth & The Merry Wives of Windsor – check performance dates with theatre
Runs 2hr 50 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7638 8891.
Review: William Russell 6 November
Knife crime and love in Verona now
Erica Whyman’s production is very much of the present with female actors playing roles once played by male actors and the actors being of varied ethnicity. It works well enough as a production intended for youngish audiences and there are some decent performances but the social context is very dicey. The Capulets are anything but posh even if they can afford a nurse for their 14 year old daughter. Set more or less now it all works much as West Side Story did, which was also about gangs with knives, but the updating to the present does cause problems. The Capulets are socially most peculiar. When Capulet gets nasty with Juliet for being reluctant to wed Paris, although as played here the man is patently not much of a catch being a rather dreary man in an ill fitting suit, his behaviour becomes abusive in modern terms. In medieval Verona daughters were currency and such weddings were a matter of improving the finances of both parties.
One can be colour blind most of the time, but it is impossible to shut one’s ears. Juliet’s nice middle class Scots delivery clashes with that of everyone else in her family, as well as everyone else in Verona. In spite of sounding like she is a pupil at Hutchison’s School for Girls in Glasgow Karen Fishwick makes a pleasing Juliet, Bally Gill a nicely gauche and immature Romeo although there is not much chemistry between them. It should be love at first sight but not much sign of that. Ishia Bennison is a splendidly vulgar Nurse although one feels she is more earthy as written than vulgar, and Andrew French makes an impressive Friar.
But while the sex changes mostly work Charlotte Joesphine is on a hiding to nothing as Mercutio. She is a nice girl with a short haircut in trousers who neither sparkles with magnetism nor looks like she could fight anybody. As for Beth Cordingly, who plays Escalus, while she looks handsome enough she exudes no great sense of being the authority figure who will finally put these warring families firmly in their place.
There is also some modish gay stuff among Romeo and his chums which is probably there somewhere in the text, because boys will be boys, but it adds little to the goings on other than the odd frisson as Benvolio gets his hopes raised momentarily.
The set is hideous, but otherwise this is a perfectly decent production which in a sense sells the play short with its attempt to make it a play for today – which, of course, is what Baz Luhrmann managed with his film version. Ms Whyman does not, however, do so with her take on the text.
Abraham: Nima Telghani.
Balthasar: Tom Padley.
Benvolio: Josh Finan.
Lady Montague: Sakuntala Ramanee.
Montague: Paul Dodds.
Romeo: Bally Gill.
Sampson: Stevie Basaula.
Gregory: Donna Banya.
Tybalt: Raphael Sowole.
Capulet: Michael Hodgson.
Lady Capulet: Miriam Haque.
Peter: Raif Clarke.
Nurse: Ishia Bennison.
Cousin Capulet: John Macaulay.
Escalus, Price of Verona: Beth Cordingly.
Paris: Afolabi Alli.
Mercutio: Charlotte Josephine.
Friar Laurence: Andrew French.
Apothecary: Katy Brittain.
Director: Erica Whyman.
Designer: Tom Piper.
Lighting Design: Charles Balfour.
Sound Designer: Jeremy Dunn.
Movement Director: Kate Waters.
Composer: Sophie Cotton.