Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Review Romeo And Juliet

Romeo and Juliet
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Owen Horsley

Love And Death In The Officers' Mess

It's the perfect fit, of course, for the National Youth Theatre (NYT), as director Kate Hewitt notes in the NYT 60th anniversary brochure. The young star-crossed lovers Romeo (James Mace) and Juliet (Shalisha James-Davis) held back by their elders and a hidebound adversarial family-based society.

Owen Horsely's adaptation is a neatly pared down Romeo and Juliet, while keeping the lyricism and major speeches,  with scenes intercut, well-paced by adaptor and director. It's a world of shadows, spotlights and echoes set in 1956 with the military still at the centre of life, conscription only ending four years later, but Britain, as in The Entertainer, increasingly unsure of its status in the world.

Indeed this seems linked to Juliet's father Capulet (Felix Mackenzie-Barrow), arranging her marriage to American Paris (Nathaniel Wade), who is enjoying dressing like the Brits and partaking in British artistocratic pastimes in an enjoyable scene, part of the sharp and vigorous version of this tragedy

But there is also the feel of the Notting Hill Riots and the moneyed nightclub world of Ruth Ellis, guns replacing traditional swords, with the Capulet parents singing in sultry tones their lines at the masqued ball where the young lovers meet - Capulet in dress uniform, Lady Capulet (Natasha Heliotis) in a decadent old-gold strapless number.

This admirably clear abridgement focuses more on the out-of-date class system than on the feuding Capulets and Montagues and Hewitt directs with a sure hand. Juliet's father is an officer and, especially with a glass of scotch in his hand, a bully both to his wife and his daughter.

The mothers of both Romeo (Catrin Walker-Booth) and Juliet mother dress in the latest Paris couture sucking on cigarette holders, while Romeo has joined the ranks of the Teds, although he and his friends and cousins can don bow ties and dickeys when the occasion demands.

Juliet is a charmingly vulnerable schoolgirlish sparrow-like figure in gingham and bobby socks and in bedroom white slip  while Romeo is a fresh faced army cadet in waiting.

A group dance element (movement Polly Bennett), pushing the plot forward, along with judicious use of blackouts, is established from the prologue along with an original, dissonant, throbbing soundtrack (music and sound Dom James and Tommy Antonio).

There's a fluidity to the simple set (design by Cecilia Carey), a black box,  depending on painterly shapes, with a versatile moveable  rectangular dais.

White strips hang down and white and sooty black upright boards work simply but effectively, especially in the balcony scene. There are always others in the shadows ready to slip into their scenes  and there's a bold use of colour filters (lighting by Elliot Griggs).

Juliet comes into her own in the second act, slipping into her own version of Parisian couture in pastel shades and visibly maturing. It's certainly a production where clothes (costume Helena Bonner) maketh the man and woman.

The supporting cast, apart from the Friar in glowing light turquoise robe, have a mash up of costumes ranging from teddy boy to some 21st century bare midriff wear at the dance (where there's a Charleston rather than Rock 'n Roll) to Peaky Blinders style caps and suits.

Mace and James-Davis give solid performances. Joshua Lyster-Downer as Friar Laurence, Arianna Beadie as the matronly Scottish nurse, part nanny, part beauty salon operative, part SRN, Michael Kinsey as the Prince give distinctive interpretations.

There's also a well-judged brief performance by Daisy Fairclough as Balthasar, Romeo's close confidente. 

Juliet's relationship with her father and mother and with her business-like nurse and Romeo's with the Friar bring the story into a strong and modern focus. The latter finds his best laid plans scuppered by one message which fails to reach its target like a vital email sitting in the outbox.

This is a fast-moving, well-drilled production - we even wondered what a one act 90 minute' version, rather than two hours and two acts,  could do taking the lovers from childhood to falling in love to death without a break and increasing the emotional stakes between the actors and with the audience. Even so, an amber/green light for a precisely directed spare, and well thought-through updating of Romeo and Juliet.

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