Review: Romeo and Juliet, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Originally written for The Public Reviews.

The observation that the audience of Headlong’s new touring production of Romeo and Juliet is almost entirely composed of schoolchildren says much about this extraordinarily well-known play. It is starter Shakespeare, the one that everyone is routinely fed at the age of fifteen, the one that has arguably seeped most into our cultural consciousness and the one that is all too often made dull with familiarity when placed on the stage. No fear of dullness, however, in the hands of Headlong.

For the younger members of the audience, it is difficult to imagine a more electric introduction to Shakespeare. It helps, of course, that director Robert Icke’s production is modern dress, but it does not rely merely on updated costume to wrench this 400-year-old play into the here and now. To say that the themes are timeless is to quote something of a truism, but Icke and his cast remind us just how strongly this play resonates with the adolescence of today.

In an intriguing central concept, Headlong’s young lovers are crossed not so much by the stars as by the unfortunate coincidences of chance. Blinding flashes of light at odd intervals usher in swift, stylised rewinds and replays, illustrating how easily events might have turned out differently – a device whose only error is not being explored to its full extent. At the same time a projected digital clock counts down the time that Romeo and Juliet still have together, while ominous ticking pervades pivotal scenes. Eschewing the more obvious focus on fate and destiny and making the striking decision to cut the prologue, Icke has singled out instead the cruelty of time and its arbitrary nature, an artistic decision that for the most part pays off.

Icke’s charged production is pacey, vibrant and almost filmic, snapping swiftly from location to location and ingeniously overlaying adjacent scenes. It makes for an unusually dynamic version of Shakespeare’s great love story and a particularly compelling one, even if some scenes could do with being a little less hastily dispatched. Throwing off the dust-cloths that have settled on the script’s famous and over-quoted lines, Headlong have invigorated the play in a production that seems to throb with the heightened pulse of adolescent love. Young and fresh are the adjectives that immediately jump to mind.

The cast, too, are markedly and appropriately youthful. The love shared by Daniel Boyd’s Romeo and Catrin Stewart’s Juliet is the giddy infatuation of teen romance, an emotion that both are trying on for size. Boyd bursts with awkward, gangling charm, while the captivating Stewart is very much a young girl, excited and consumed by the love that seems to grasp her bodily. There are also star turns from Tom Mothersdale as a swaggering, hipster Mercutio with an edge of danger and from Danny Kirrane’s drunkenly laddish but well-meaning Benvolio. The same sense of passion and energy found in the performances suffuses the direction, a zest that begs forgiveness for its few stumbles.

All too often Shakespearean productions describe themselves as ‘bold’ when really they do little more than employ a gimmick for the sake of doing something different. Icke’s inventive and effervescent production, however, can lay claim to true creative boldness in presenting a vision that is both true to the text and unlike any other interpretation you are likely to have seen.

Romeo and Juliet is touring the country until 7 April.

One Response to “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre”
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  1. […] and play wasted with slurring commitment. Much as he did with Headlong’s strikingly youthful Romeo and Juliet, director Robert Icke injects proceedings with an espresso shot of energy, as the youngsters dance […]

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