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A CurtainUp Review
Romeo and Juliet

The fearful passage of their death mark'd love
And the continuance of their parents'rage,
Which but their children's end, nought could remove
Is now the two hours' traffick of our stage.

-- Prologue ---

The latest in a long line of Romeo and Juliet productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company gives a new and lively interpretation of this most produced play of Shakespeare's repertoire. I think that director Michael Boyd's Romeo and Juliet may be known as "the one with the feet."

We know that protestation of new love is extreme and amusing to all except the lovers themselves. In this Verona, Juliet raises many a laugh and sometimes laughter drowns out some of her lines. It can be argued that we know what those lines are, in any case. Juliet (Alexandra Gilbreath) spends the balcony scene lying on top of a high curved wall, her bare feet twitching in excitement and pleasure, her legs waving around in the air. Juliet bangs her head repeatedly on the wall to "Romeo Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo?" The idea is to convey euphoria and it is different and rather silly. David Tennant's Romeo is more staid than the flighty Gilbreath, although he too has his moment of soaring avowal.

The crowd scenes are well presented, the opening fight leaves one of the cast permanently wounded and bandaged and a bloodstain on the wall remains throughout. Through this violence and confusion walks the lit figure of white shirted Romeo, speaking the prologue, oblivious to the commotion. This is very effective staging of some of Shakespeare's beautiful verse.

Alfred Burke's Prince is a very old man with spindly legs and two black sticks dressed in last year's fashion of doublet and hose, totally unable to control the warring families. Exciting choreography for the ball scene has Paris (Nicholas Khan) and Juliet dancing a version of the stylised but sensual Volta with Juliet's eyes never leaving Romeo's face. What stood out for me in this production was seeing the role of Juliet's bullying and physically abusive father as the catalyst of the tragedy, Capulet's (Ian Hogg) insistence on the early marriage to Paris. This seems to offend not only all women who do not feel themselves to be at their parent's disposal but also those still in mourning for Tybalt, (Keith Dunphy) Juliet's cousin. Boyd places the figures of Tybalt and Mercutio (Adrian Schiller) above the stage in the first ghost scene I remember seeing in Romeo and Juliet. These two swirl in as Juliet takes the potion reminding us of the unknown she embarks on. They appear again as Romeo is told of Juliet's death. Mercutio mirrors Juliet's balcony scene as Romeo takes the apothecary's poison. .

The ensemble performances are of a very high standard. I particularly liked thin faced, red haired "Prince of Cats" who seethes with anger. Mercutio plays his part with much irony and is less jovial than usual, Juliet taking the comic honours. Eileen McCallum's Glaswegian nurse is common, vulgar and garrulous. Only when Capulet is raging at his daughter does she lose her tongue. Gilbreath is slightly old to play Juliet, her voice is quite husky but she has the depth to make the switch from being madly in love to full blown tragedy. David Tennant is a sincere Romeo, a handsome, sympathetic hero.

Tom Piper's set is minimal, a pale honey gold marble apron and two curved walls which do not move. A trap serves for the Friars herb garden and for Juliet's tomb. The curved walls are lit from the bottom in blue and purple and red to vary the scene and gives the production a modern feel. The costume is largely period but with gelled spiky hair. All of the Capulets are plunged effectively into black dress after Tybalt's death. The citizenry wear scarves wrapped about their faces when the plague threatens. Live music adds to the atmosphere.

Michael Boyd has implemented some welcome, fresh ideas for the three hour "traffick of our stage"."

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Boyd

With: Alfred Burke, Vincent Brimble, Adrian Schiller, Nicholas Khan, Claire Adamson, Sam Cox, Graeme Mearns, Ian Hogg, Caroline Harris, Alexandra Gilbreath, Keith Dunphy, Eileen McCallum, Robert Goodale, Tim Treloar, Andrew Pointon, Paul Ewing, Des McAleer, Helen Weir, David Tennant, Anthony Howell, Christian Mahrle, Jalaal Hartley
Design: Tom Piper
Lighting Design: Chris Davey
Sound Design: Mic Pool
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Movement: Liz Ranken
Running time: Three hours and fifteen minutes including one interval
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking to April 18th 2001
Sponsored by Coutts
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th January 2001 performance from the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican, Silk Street London EC2
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©Copyright 2001, Elyse Sommer.
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