Dawn overcomes her fear of Shakespeare to attend the previews of the RSC’s new production of Romeo & Juliet at Norwich Theatre Royal
When asked about Shakespeare, I’m sure, like me, most people think of childhood English Literature classes. Since then I’ve never been tempted to watch a Shakespeare play.
However, when the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) announced its production of Romeo & Juliet would be opening its national tour in Norwich, it seemed foolish to let the chance get away.
We all know that Romeo & Juliet is the most famous story of love at first sight, but this production is not as you expect.
Director Erica Whyman has used gender changes, the perception of homosexuality and modern music to create a contemporary and diverse version of this Shakespeare classic.
The underlying plot remains; a tale of two star-cross’d lovers determined to follow their hearts’ desire – risking everything to be together against their families’ wishes.
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Tom Piper’s staging remains grey and bleak throughout, with the only the pop of colour coming from a green plant backdrop when the scene changes to include Friar Laurence.
While I appreciate minimalistic scenery encourages the audience to focus on the actors, and therefore enhances the action on stage, sadly this approach wasn’t enough for me. The use of a large, industrial-looking cuboid didn’t provide the right platform for the balcony, bedroom and final scenes.
The wardrobe was also minimal, with most of the cast in jeans, hoodies and trainers. While it may have appealed to young audiences, I didn’t know how I felt about it.
Romeo & Juliet on stage
From the beginning, it was Charlotte Josephine who commanded the stage as Mercutio. Traditionally a male role, the change to a female character worked well for Whyman’s modernised production. Charlotte’s voice and energy drew me in and her quirkiness livened up the hours, although at times it felt over the top.
Karen Fishwick conveyed the innocence of young Juliet while maintaining the maturity and strength she gains as her story evolves. Opposite her was Bally Gill whose portrayal of Romeo was laddish and playful but remained endearing and strong. Together, the two work effortlessly to create a perfect pairing for this play.
Although I enjoyed Ishia Bennison’s performance as the Nurse, it lacked the sincerity of her relationship and closeness to Juliet. This was perhaps a result of the modern interpretation and direction rather than her acting ability.
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Another of Erica Whyman’s character gender changes was with Prince Escalus, ruler of Verona. Beth Cordingly had no trouble portraying the strong and authoritative position as a woman and this was clear from her first scene.
Thanks to the cast’s unfailing energy and passion, plus some winning performances, this Romeo & Juliet production has shaken up Shakespeare to engage new audiences. Even those still wary from their schooldays!
Romeo & Juliet will be at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday 5th January 2019. Call 01603 630000 for tickets or click here to book online.