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Romeo and Juliet review: This modern, funny and moving reworking is a much-needed take on the classic tragedy

PUBLISHED: 13:44 31 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:50 31 January 2019

Karen Fishwick and Bally Gill as Juliet and Romeo in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSC

Karen Fishwick and Bally Gill as Juliet and Romeo in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSC

Topher McGrillis/RSC

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and four pupils from a Norwich high school took to the stage last night at Norwich Theatre Royal for a contemporary and edgy version of Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet by the Royal Shakespere Company. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSCRomeo and Juliet by the Royal Shakespere Company. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSC

When the cast first appeared on a minimalistic stage to attention-grabbing and experimental music, dressed in leather jackets and skinny jeans, it was clear this was going to be different. While the play didn’t stray far from the original script, the juxtaposition of the old-English language with costumes straight off the rail from Top Shop was impressively unnoticeable.

Yes, it was still Shakespeare and at times it was hard to follow the old language but the dynamic acting and choreography kept the audience captivated.

The excitement and urgency of Romeo and Juliet’s young love was wonderfully portrayed by Karen Fishwick (Juliet) and Bally Gill (Romeo). Gill’s Romeo was lad-ish, cocky and charming and his sighs as he fell in love had the audience in fits of giggles.

Fishwick wonderfully captured the limbo between childhood and adulthood as Juliet had to deal with grown-up decisions. The character’s rash decisions were questionable, but at the same time their young and reckless love was portrayed in a relatable manner.

Andrew Finch as Friar Laurence in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSCAndrew Finch as Friar Laurence in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSC

Everyone knows the ending and yet the audience found themselves hoping for a different conclusion in which their young love would prevail.

A nod must be given to the RSC’s diverse casting that saw actors and actresses from different cultures and backgrounds come together to bring a fresh perspective to a much-loved play.

Charlotte Josephine’s trendy and quick-witted portrayal of Mercutio was captivating in all senses delivering a new take on a classic role. Her energy levels never wavered making her an absolute credit to the show.

Another notable performance was Ishia Bennison’s representation of the nurse – a character who often had the audience in hysterics.

Charlotte Josephine and Josh Finan as Mercutio and Benvolio in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSCCharlotte Josephine and Josh Finan as Mercutio and Benvolio in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSC

Aside from the occasional use of a chair and other small props, the set was primarily made up of a large steel box and stairs that was creatively used as a balcony, a stage for the rock band at the party, a bedroom and a crypt to name just a few.

The set changes almost went unnoticed, something of a directors dream, as the box was rotated seamlessly to take on new locations. Elaborate sets can sometimes distract from the performance, so credit is due to the set designers who were bold enough to strip back the visuals so that the audience were able to really focus on the acting.

The set allows the story to be transported to any time and place - not necessarily Verona in the fourteenth century – emphasising how the messages about knife-crime and suicide are still so relevant in today’s society.

Sophie Cotton’s musical direction was evidently well considered, with a raw soundtrack that helped emphasise the dramatic scenes in the play whilst sometimes almost disappearing into the background to quietly accompany the unfolding storyline.

Ishia Bennison and Karen Fishwick as Nurse and Juliet in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSCIshia Bennison and Karen Fishwick as Nurse and Juliet in the Royal Shakespere Company's Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Topher McGrillis/RSC

The subtle use of sound effects added an extra-dimension to the play, whether it was bird-song or the eerie echoes during the crypt scene.

The youthful cast brought a breath of fresh air to the play as they danced, fought and ran around the stage. Towards the end, the slow movements of the cast reflected the sombre mood.

Tybalt (Raphael Sowole), wearing a bloodied shirt, appears silently in the corner of the stage during one of Juliet’s monologues. He slowly climbed the stairs onto the box so that he towered above her as an eerie reminder of the lives that had been lost. Sowole had such a powerful and chilling presence on stage without saying a single word. From then on, the ghosts of those murdered make further appearances on stage – a constant haunting reminder of the significance of the murders.

At the end of the performance, the RSC cast ushered the Norwich teenagers to the front of the stage to ensure the youngsters were recognised for their brilliant performance. They then proceeded to step forward in turn to receive their much deserved applause.

This modern, funny and moving reworking is a much-needed take on the classic tragedy. Erica Whyman, RSC’s Deputy Artistic Director, has directed a stunning version of Romeo and Juliet that proves the play has a well-deserved place in the twenty-first century.

• Romeo and Juliet will run at Norwich Theatre Royal until February 2

• Tickets are available from Norwich Theatre Royal’s website for £10-33

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