Review: Romeo & Juliet

In Romeo & Juliet we have a play that boasts over 40 film versions and more stage shows than can be counted safely without algebra. While essentially a good yarn it has been done to death over the years and so it’s with a cool eye that we watch the latest effort to swing by...

The Birmingham Repertory Company is touring with a cast of raw young talent, with some of the cast fresh out of drama school, supported by more experienced hands, including Nottingham entertainer legend Su Pollard as the Nurse. Bill Brydon has produced this with a no frills approach, and the pace is quick amongst a sparse set consisting of a simple raised stage and a wooden panelled backboard complete with retractable balcony and gate. Alas in act five, with the grave scene set within a trapdoor in the raised stage, if you are in the front half of the stalls and of ‘a shorter disposition’ the view is quite restricted, so tickets in the balcony might be an idea if you're going.

The costumes were novel, while the ladies sported simple dresses, the men wore tight denim jeans with modern jackets chopped and laced together into a quasi classic style, an interesting take you might say mixing the old and the new but matching denim codpieces? steady on. Combine this with a youthful cast and the effect is Hollyoaks meets the Renaissance, experimental artistic statement? tiny budget? who knows.

Romeo in this production was played by a youthful Jamie Doyle for whom this is his first professional tour after graduating from RADA, good for him. It’s nice to see Romeo, a young good looking buck, played in the story by a young good looking actor. Jamie seems to play the role with a serious hand, more young Hamlet than Romeo perhaps, and while there are some good angst riddled moments with him I would have liked to have seen more love smitten body language. The young Juliet, she's fourteen in the story, is played by Anjali Jay, who captures the feel of a young girl well but fails to connect with the audience, the octave range of her delivery and her movement was unexpressive, perhaps accurate for a young girl, rather than a hormonal fuelled teen, but I was unmoved. 

There were some good supporting performances which made the show worthwhile, Friar Laurence played by veteran actor Gerald Harper was the rounded, compassionate and sincere paternal voice in Romeos ear. Su Pollard as Nurse was great fun, her bustling vocal energy combined with a good appreciation of the bawdy Shakesperian humour was refreshing, this is her first Shakespeare outing on the stage and she fits neatly into her role, nice one Su. Other nods go to an imposing Tybalt played by Daniel Williams and Wendy Morgan’s Lady Capulet. One of the highlights of the show was Gus Gallagher as Mercutio, his animated style and sharp appreciation of the wit and comic timing of the part was a real pleasure to watch, he was clearly enjoying himself and reminded me of a sharp and bawdy version of John de Lancies 'Q' from Star Trek, excellent. 

On the whole there seemed to be a noticeable lack of pathos amongst some members of the cast with certain sections of dialogue seeming wooden and emotionless, patchy in some characters yet a real problem for others, Paris being an example. Some of the 'raw young talent' need to relax and enjoy themselves more perhaps, its one of those plays which is often scoffed at for over acting but under acting and lack of emotion is just as much an issue. While I can sympathise with their position, I would be bricking myself in their shoes, the audience’s sympathy is tempered with the fact that they are paying for the privilege and expect a high standard, which sadly in this show wasn’t universal. Nonetheless it was an interesting performance and it will be interesting to see how the cast’s careers develop, Su Pollard as Lady Macbeth perhaps?

Review by Dom Henry
Leftlion Nottingham
February 2006