Romeo and Juliet

Sun 10th – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Claire Murgatroyd

at 07:40 on 11th Aug 2014

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Seemingly a tale as old as time, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a quick, bold and explosive play which helped to shape not just Shakespeare’s career, but what it means to be a lover.

No doubt wishing to capitalise on the play’s enduring success, the Beaconsfield Players have chosen this surprising melodrama to perform, but have cleverly created a much softer, subtler piece that fits perfectly into the twenty-first century. No longer the fanciful tale of man meets girl amidst a tumultuous battlefield, in this production, there were no Montagues or Capulets, but friends, lovers and poorly executed drug deals.

Matilda Wnek and Claudia Grigg-Edo, directors and adapters of Shakespeare’s text, have been very calculating in their decisions, including axing characters like the protagonists’ parents, and promoting the normally mute Rosaline to a much more three-dimensional role.

Parts of the modernisation, however, were more successful than others. The notable lack of violence, for example, reduced the normally tense play to a relatively gentle teen drama, while Juliet’s suicide – a silent act, committed out of sight – seemed incredibly anticlimactic. That being said I found the whole experience incredibly watchable and moving, even if it did at times feel more like an episode of ‘Skins’ than true tragedy.

More convincing however, were Rosa Robson and Claudia Grigg-Edo, playing Romeo and Juliet respectively. The crucial fact that Romeo was transformed into a female character, and their relationship a lesbian one, did not challenge the audience’s preconceptions of the tale one bit. This could have been due to having a surprisingly liberal set of spectators, but it was more likely to be because of the incredibly effortless performance of the two actors, who conversed and kissed with such a fragile sweetness that the performance became completely mesmerising.

If the Beaconsfield Players had wanted to shock their audience, they could have done more, but in terms of a transplantation of classical text into the here and now, I commend them. Having Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo as friends instead of family adds an extra comradery , while transforming the role of the friar into that of a drug dealer does makes more sense in a modern setting.

Overall, despite several key plot changes, and a complete alteration of the lover’s dynamic, (an affair marred not by family feuding, but by the continuing presences of narcotics and the tantalising Rosaline), this piece was undeniably one worth watching. While I may not bring my children to it, as many audience-goers did, this was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon at the Fringe, if not for traditional interpretation, then for the conviction Rosa Robson brought to a fairly tired role. If the performance we saw was the first of their run I applaud them, and hope that the rest of their shows follow in the impressive wake of their first.

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Bridey Addison-Child

at 10:02 on 11th Aug 2014

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From the moment that this production’s opening scenes excluded Shakespeare's famous prologue, it was clear that this adaptation was going boldly off-piste.

The thematic point of this omission became clear as the piece developed: the tension of clashing families that usually constitutes the emotional rise and fall in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was dissolved and patched onto a modern framework. There wasn’t a feuding Montague or Capulet in sight. Instead, the star-crossed lovers encountered a series of modern vices, namely drug use, which (in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner) was facilitated by Friar Lawrence turned Apothecary (Bertie Wnek) who met all of the character’s illicit pharmaceutical desires.

I found this production, particularly the opening scenes, engaging and compelling. For a start, the visual design of the piece had a stylish bravura about it: denim shorts, plaid shirts and backwards caps saturated the wardrobe, with Mercutio (Adrian Gray) sporting a Joy Division tee. Drug paraphernalia and white powder was scattered about the stage with reckless abandon. Sheets were strewn across a bed littered with beer bottles and dirty clothes.

This all contributed to a powerfully sensuous quality onstage – a world of youth and beauty and excess. This was only enriched by the decision to cast a woman (Rosa Grace Robson) in Romeo’s role, and to combine the role of Juliet’s Nurse and her suitor, Paris, into one character: Juliet’s nearly-boyfriend (portrayed by Sam Grabiner, with Claudia Grigg-Edo as a delicate Juliet). This led to an extra dynamic of ‘young love’ onstage.

The usually absent Rosaline (Catriona Sterling) was given a voice, and played Romeo’s other lover besides Juliet. I might add it was incredibly refreshing to watch a production with two strong female leads (simultaneously giving a platform for a portrayal of a gay relationship).

Undoubtedly the highlight was the study of Romeo and Juliet’s budding relationship - a surprise for me on all accounts, since I usually find this a little twee and much prefer the nitty-gritty action of Mercutio’s death. Robson as Romeo was exceptional: there was something confident, intelligent and sexy about her portrayal of the character, which was captivating to watch. The direction was also stunningly executed: the atmosphere crackled with sensuality as mellow music tinkled on in the background.

As the show progressed, however, I did feel as if a battle was raging between loyalty to the Shakespearian plot (which had pretty much already been sacrificed the moment they decided not to include the Prologue), and the ability to patch the play onto the framework of the modern world. The result was that the scenes that one would expect to constitute the emotional peaks of the show – the deaths of Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet - were somewhat understated, crumbling under the pressure of squeezing them into the newly spun plot. The point at which Juliet decides to take the sleeping potion seemed beyond reason in this production.

Overall, if you’re a Shakespeare purist, then this show isn’t for you: a grubby beer and comedown-fuelled adaptation, this production is hilariously well-observed (especially if you’re in your twenties), and adds a successful sharp edge of modernity to the original script.

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