Review: Romeo And Juliet Swaps Verona For London In 2016
Gemma Fairlie's take on Shakespeare's most celebrated tragic romance posits "fair Verona" as London in the summer of 2016.
Designer Carla Goodman has laid our scenery so as to comprehensively foreground the conflict of interests between the two households: Romeo's (John Leader) folks, the Montagues, run an independent grocery chain, and Juliet's (Tanya Lattul) family, the Capulets — or "Crapulets," going by the abundant graffiti — are supplanting them with advertisements for forthcoming luxury apartments. Couched in the context of gentrification, the famous family feud feels both perennial and very 'now'.
On first impressions — which are crucial in Fairlie's teenage metropolis of snarky thumb-bites and dented egos — the drama smacks of an episode of Waterloo Road: we're not sure if we believe absolutely in the acting, but the hormones rage reassuringly and the storyline seems to be following a familiar formula.
However, like all dalliances that begin in a dance-floor environment, this production just needs time to warm up: it's all uphill from the star-crossed lovers' first encounter. Leader — who specialises in physical theatre — takes us by surprise and joins Juliet on her balcony with a Parkour-worthy vault. The entirety of their courtship is creatively blocked, reaching its zenith when it is consummated in a playful, delicate, foreplay-as-dance sequence.
All members of the cast follow Leader's suit in hoisting themselves to moments of exceptional import within their performances: David Ahmad and Lia Burge are great as the Capulet parents: he's an abhorrent geezer, she can't stop looking at Paris (Tony Hasnath) like he's a large glass of white wine.
The doubling-up of parts elicits some punchy comparisons between various characters: Hasnath's Mercutio is a ball of hard-hitting wordiness, but he also brings home the bacon as the foppish Paris.
The calibre of the ensemble rescues this production from categorisation as textbook love, or a paint-by-numbers approach to Shakespeare. Nevertheless, it'd make an excellent study aid, and is punctuated by episodes of pure entertainment.
Romeo and Juliet is on at the Orange Tree Theatre until 20 February. Tickets £7-£15. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 04 February 2016