Touring; seen at Theatre Royal, Brighton
Opened 23 October, 2008

There’s a wonderful threat in Scouse English which isn’t specific about the harm in prospect, only the consequences: “You’re gonna wake up with a crowd round your bed!” This is what keeps happening to the protagonists of Neil Bartlett’s touring RSC production: at their union, at their parting, as Juliet fakes her suicide and again at the close of the tragedy, with the bed transformed into a bier, a group of supernumeraries and/or musicians gathers around in mute witness of events. It is as if their very presence pressures the lovers into roles in their families’ vendetta. The cast are in mid-20th century costume, but this is not the Italy of La Dolce Vita but rather of the contemporary Sicilian scenes in The Godfather: Simon Slater’s music deliberately recalls Nino Rota’s score.
I saw the show in Brighton at the beginning of its tour; in late November it returns to a home berth in the Stratford repertoire. Most critical eyes were on Anneika Rose, who took over the role of Juliet at a few weeks’ notice. Rose has found an appealing persona for Juliet, but one does not feel her going on a journey. Juliet, remember, is only 13 when the play begins, and undergoes love, marriage, bereavement and despair in a frighteningly rapid accretion of experience. Rose’s Juliet is knowing and even a little sassy to begin with, making a risqué reference or two in her first exchange with Romeo at the Capulets’ ball; she never taps into the depth of sadness that the character acquires. David Dawson’s Romeo, in contrast, is as open and articulate as the actor’s boyish face as he travels the winding route from romanticism to fatalism.
As Juliet’s Nurse, Julie Legrand is not as broadly comic as usual, in a welcome change; her counterweight in the plot, Romeo’s confessor Friar Laurence, is given a refreshingly astringent (though perhaps a little too wild-eyed) rendering by James Clyde. Bartlett’s production fulfils its brief: it tells the story clearly, in a way that kept the school-student-heavy audience at my performance quiet and engaged almost from the off, and it even makes a decent fist of sounding Shakespeare’s verse metre. But there is nothing particularly to recommend it over the last or the next version of this oft-staged drama.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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