Review: Romeo & Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is probably the best known and most hackneyed love story in English Literature.

The Birmingham Repertory Company has elected to tell it in a straightforward manner with no frills. Bill Bryden’s muscular and brisk production of the tale was well suited by Hayden Griffin’s austere set, a bare stage with an ingenious superstructure which emerged from the rear for the interior scenes. This forced the actors to create the reality of the scenes by their performances which by and large they did with great success.

As with any production of this play, the focus is on the two lovers and I don’t intend to add to the plethora of opinions as to whether or not it is reasonable to have actors with something approximating the character’s age with minimum acting experience, or whether it should be played by actors with the scope and ability to encompass the verse, if not the character’s ages.

Bill Bryden opted for the first opinion with a Romeo, Jamie Doyle, making his professional stage debut and a Juliet, Anjali Jay, with a little more experience but still young. Both these young actors coped extremely well, giving a “street cred” reading to the roles which fitted in with the overall rough and ready telling of the story which had been opted for.

Although one lost some of the poetry in this conception of the roles, at least the intense romance was preserved and gave some credibility to the melodramatic finale of the play. 

Jamie Doyle, in particular, handled his lines with skill and made his Romeo a young, coltish yet endearing boy who falls for a pretty face without realising the consequences.

On occasions, particularly in the second act, he managed to give the role back its poetry without losing his overall concept of the character which I found impressive. He certainly justified Mr Bryden’s selection of him and I look forward to seeing how he and his career develop as I suspect it will be well worth watching.

Anali Jay did not quite impress me as much. She read her lines well but her Juliet was too “little girly” for my taste. I felt if she thought a little less about “the acting” and was more spontaneous she would have been a better counterpart for Mr Doyle. But it is a difficult role and I thought that, given my expressed reservation, she coped well.

As did the rest of the cast, although one had to admit that the two featured players deserved their billing. Su Pollard was a down to earth Nurse; the fact that her previous job and experience in some renaissance holiday camp had left its mark on her bustling movements and forms of speech did not detract from the warmth and sincerity she brought to the role.

Edith Evans she was not, and all the better for it, I say. Her playing of the part fitted in with the carry-on in Verona as portrayed by Mr Bryden and very good she was in it.

Gerald Harper, too, showed what an experienced thespian can make of Friar Lawrence. This was no bumbling cleric but a sincere churchman with compassion and authority. His handling of the situation was that of an understanding schoolmaster faced with a difficult problem in the classroom and his distress when the solution went wrong was understandable; a lovely performance.

It is perhaps invidious to single out any of the other well played performances. Keoran Flynn was a fine upstanding Montague which matched Simon Scott’s Capulet. Both their ladies were well represented by Wendy Morgan as a fire-eating Lady Capulet and Mary Ryder as a more understanding Lady Montague; Mercutio and Tybalt were made excellent sparring partners by Gus Gallagher and Daniel Williams. In fact, a fine cast who played their part, whether big or small, well.

Mention should I suppose be made of Mr Bryden’s coup de theatre in making the Prince of Verona a voice from above with the sonorous yet mellifluous tones of Sir Donald Sinden but this was just one of the many directorial touches which went to give lustre to the production. My only reservation is that I found the opening street brawl a little to close to home in view of some of the recent unhappy events on the London streets but perhaps I am a little too oversensitive.

All in all this was a good, well played, understandable evening of theatre and, judging from the applause at the end from a mostly school aged audience, one that is very acceptable to the next generation of theatre goers.

I know if I were “doing” the play for my GCE this production would be all that I would need to make sense of Mr. Shakespeare’s doomed love story; a good mark to all concerned!

Review by David Munro
Indie London
February 2006