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Romeo and Juliet
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
IN THE programme notes to Romeo and Juliet, director Erica Whyman explains that she wants to make young audiences “recognise themselves” and their own world. Consequently, this adrenalin-fuelled production, with a mixed-race and gender-blind casting, is set in a sex-charged, classless context.
Shakespeare’s tragedy of young love has a vitality and commitment which never flags.
Surprisingly, casting Romeo’s supercharged compatriot Mercutio as a woman makes little difference. Charlotte Josephine’s manic joker, shadow-boxing her caustically witty way to disaster, could take on any bruiser in all the knife-carrying, street-gang feuding.
The play lives or dies necessarily through its pair of star-crossed lovers and Bally Gill and Karen Fishwick are totally convincing here as teenage victims of their raging passions. There is little time for romance in their hormone-driven relationship hurtling towards a tragic consummation.
Apart from Ishia Bennison’s Nurse, who relishes in one of Shakespeare’s few female comic characters, the older generation are largely helpless bystanders. If, like Andrew French’s Friar Laurence — desperately trying to keep pace with his young flock — they offer help, they merely provide the context for disaster.
Necessarily, given the hysterical pace of Whyman’s production the poetic language of what has been called a love duet goes for little.
More staid theatre-goers may find the mood and action reflected in this particular mirror held up to nature unappealing, but the young audiences that Whyman and the theatre in general seek to engage will no doubt be held by a production reflecting their generation’s zeitgeist.
Runs until September 21, box office: rsc.org.uk
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