Romeo and Juliet

Tue 7th – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

James Fennemore

at 00:32 on 9th Aug 2012

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Any school that allows rival gangs to wear different uniforms is asking for trouble. Redland High School for Girls’ all-female production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ sees the ill-fated lovers cross paths in a schoolroom setting, where Mercutio meets his end via an errant Stanley Knife and classroom squabbling quickly escalates into a bloody scene of carnage. It’s a stern warning for Michael Gove, at least.

Alhough my star rating is low, this is, for a school production, a valiant and at times engaging effort at putting on Shakespeare. I was never bored, and the script had been well cut to preserve enough of the storyline but still retain enough of the original.

The choice to place the action in a school setting at least roots the very young actors in a comfortable and realistic context. There are some nice enough touches, like a revolving blackboard which has each setting drawn onto its dexter side during the preceding scene. The punky Montagues certainly show up the limp Capulets in terms of costume design; ripped jeans and ruffled hair certainly beats cricket whites and cravats. The insertion of scenes in which teachers demand homework or break up fights are, however, superfluous to the setting, which could stand up without the need of extraneous justification.

Some of the performers showed momentary promise; Georgie Graham Williams, playing Mercutio, had a sulky impishness about her, which worked well in scenes where she didn’t allow over-acting to detract from the overall impression. The music showed good range and occasional innovation – I particularly enjoyed the accordion section. The famous prologue was sung very tunefully, but without any comprehension that the words were anything other than tools to fill the tune – there was no attempt to convey any meaning.

There were several more fundamental issues with the production. The pacing of the dialogue was often achingly slow, as the actors really needed to pick up on their cues to maintain any sense of momentum. There was altogether too much movement in the piece, as actors would scuffle noisily about the stage. The whole cast would do well to return to the absolute basics of storytelling: they all need to be absolutely clear about their relationships and intentions in each scene, and, above all, to focus on the meaning of what they are saying. In putting on a Shakespeare they are blessed with the fact that the language really will do a lot of the work for them – if only they pay attention to it.

These flaws are almost inevitable in a school production like this one, which, although showing some degree of promise and appeal to friends and family, seems a little out of place at the Fringe. The most significant merits of the venture are undoubtedly not critical; it is instead encouraging that such a young cast are tackling and enjoying a Shakespeare work. For this they should be heartily commended.

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Daniel Malcolm

at 10:14 on 9th Aug 2012

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This version of 'Romeo and Juliet' had its quirks: the school setting was wittily exploited, chalk turned to naked weapons, the 'star-crossed' prologue became a school hymn to the tune of Alleluia - and lines directed to the Prince worked as a rather hip nickname for the principal. The tribalism of the rival houses translated well into a rather rough playground, however implausibly quickly the Stanley knives were bloodied in some of the fight-scenes.

But after some good thumb-biting at the beginning, the bullying lost its bitchiness, and the atmosphere was only haphazardly suited for the playground: some scenes, like the Capulet ball, were hardly adapted to the school-theme at all. The air and the dance moves breathed medieval Verona, rather than Verona-high-school disco. Other scenes went childishly overboard, peppered with intrusive school-speak such as "where's your homework? "

It's not simply a matter of introducing some more props. For, despite the guitar-slappers in the corner, this production played up rather than dampened the aristocratic impropriety of Juliet's refusal of Paris. Her bizarrely supercilious father was more obnoxiously aristocratic than any I've seen in a period piece. The production also flitted rather inconsistently between moods: a saccharine pink haze hung over the ball, whereas the "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" scene had a genuine grittiness to it, as the two faltered with realistic teenage uncertainty. Mercutio was the most consistent at conjuring this adolescent spirit. She captured the mercurial melodrama of the role, by really animating and ironising her lines, and the look of betrayal on her face when she died bested many of the scenes of supposedly higher drama later in the play. By contrast, some characters seemed at times strangely unperturbed by death. Paris was apparently completely unmoved by Juliet's supposed death and not in a way that contributed coherently to otherwise quite sympathetic characterisation.

The production then was only sporadically passionate, sporadically teenage, and hence only sporadically good. Many of Working Girls' experiments came off and I wish they had been more daring - because when they played safe (or not at all), the play seemed more school-girl, than school-set.

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