BritishTheatre

Published on

October 27, 2015

REVIEW: Romeo And Juliet, Brockley Jack Theatre ✭✭✭✭

By

timhochstrasser

Romeo and Juliet - Brockley Jack Theatre

Romeo And Juliet

Brockley Jack Theatre

22/10/15

4 Stars

‘I see that madmen have no ears.

How should they when wise men have no eyes?

…Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel.’

You can get away with a traditional production of Romeo and Juliet on a summer’s evening outdoors where the location and atmosphere are as much part of the experience as the play; but on a damp evening in Brockley rather more is required to engage and audience. Immersion Theatre has a fine record, in finding new things to say about familiar texts, and I am glad to say this production is no exception. It is particularly welcome that this touring show is likely to appeal and seem most accessible to young people.

The first point to make is that the play is cut quite substantially, but generally to advantage. The whole evening including the interval comes in at just over two hours, and has a flow and refreshing pace about it that is most welcome. Some characters have disappeared too. Lady Capulet is a widow or single mum, with Tybalt as the effective man of the house, and the Montague parents are likewise reduced to a fleeting appearance from Romeo’s mother. While all the key speeches and scenes are intact there is a lot of judicious pruning, and I cannot say I felt the loss.

Director James Tobias has decided to set the play in the context of the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, so the opening scene is a confrontation between the Montagues, waving banners and shouting slogans, and the Capulet faction led by Tybalt who have decided to break the strike and return to work. The families are indeed ‘alike in dignity’, but they are not elevated by wealth. The Prince is a policeman, and Paris appears to be too. I am not quite sure how Friar Laurence fitted into this format: he comes over as a genial tweedy teacher rather than as any kind of priest.. but no matter.

Romeo and Juliet - Brockley Jack Theatre

This scenario works pretty well: it makes sense of the inveterate enmities of the families and easily indicates how difficult it is for the lovers to separate themselves from the intrigues and violence around them. It does retreat into the background somewhat as the pace of the action intensifies in the second half, but in reality that would happened with any externally imposed context at this stage in the drama.

I also like the new slant cast on Tybalt’s somewhat underwritten role. As Tobias says in his programme note, he is often played as a stock villain, but that fails to explain why the women mourn him so extravagantly. By having him as the leading man in the Capulet household with an ambiguous relationship to both Juliet, the Nurse and Lady Capulet creates some genuinely interesting avenues for the actors to pursue. Harry Anton does a lot with this role and he comes over in this production as a proper balanced match for Mercutio in their combat, not as a two-dimensional thug.

Romeo and Juliet - Brockley Jack Theatre

Of course any new production can take the play in any number of new directions, but it seems to me that there have to be at least two main constants if this play is to work. First, the ‘star-crossed lovers’ need to stand apart from the rest of the play in a cocoon of their own mutual rapture ridiculously oblivious to the world around them, and convinced that no one can understand their perspective. At the heart of the play, and what gives it perennial significance, is its miraculous embodiment of very young love wholly at odds with the world, in which two characters who start off as conciliatory conformists achieve the full development of their personalities very rapidly through their mutual infatuation. This is very much how they are played here by Clive Keene and Simone Murphy. While some of the highly rhetorical speeches entrusted to them (eg ‘Gallop apace you fiery footed steeds’) could use more textual work and a slower pace, there was no doubting the intensity of the chemistry between them or the credibility of their romance. They look out from the poster as if in a production of West Side Story, a picture of angry alienation; and that seems just right for this kind of explicitly confrontational production.

The second element of any successful production should be the transition between the largely comic tone of the first half presided over by the witty banter of Mercutio and the bold bawdry of the Nurse, and the more sober and sombre tone of the second half where the forces of authority, in the form of Friar Laurence and Lady Capulet attempt to reassert themselves before the final dénouement.

A lot therefore depends on the work of these four actors in particular and in this production there were excellent contributions from all of them. As Mercutio, Dan Dawes was genuinely funny, an excellent mover about the stage who generated energy around him. He also did some fine things with the extraordinary ‘Queen Mab’ speech. He not only captured the gossamer fantasy of the language but also the ugly pain of the final section, which anticipates his own demise, and adds a rare quality of self-knowledge to the performance.

Romeo and Juliet - Brockley Jack Theatre

Roseanna Morris was a much more assertive and less bumbling Nurse than normal, which is all to the good. She made the Nurse something of a cross between Julie Walters and Jennifer Saunders: tough-minded, sprightly in wit, but tender-hearted and quite willing to stand up to Juliet, Lady Capulet, Romeo and Friar Laurence. Again this was in tune with the context, and made us listen to what the Nurse actually says in the play much more carefully.

Rochelle Perry benefited from being the main, indeed, really sole parental voice in the play. As Lady Capulet she displayed a brittleness and edgy impatience with her situation that evoked sympathy. For once she was played as a younger middle-aged woman, still concerned to cut a figure herself. So when she confronted Juliet over marriage with Paris this was a real raw and ugly scene of bullying, not the tame winding down of the plot it can be in less careful productions.

As Friar Laurence and the Prince,  James Sanderson managed to convey different types of authority, and at the very end pulled the threads of the action together very effectively. Friar Laurence can be tiresome role but he found plenty of opportunities for humour and understated appreciation of the foibles of his charges.

Given the limited space in the Brockley Jack it was impressive how Fight Director Matt Gardner had put together routines that were credible, varied and safe for actors and audience (I was sitting in the front row!). In particular, Mercutio, Romeo and Benvolio (James G Nunn) generated lots of plausible, genuinely amusing, joshing during the disco that substituted for the masked ball.

Costumes and music were very much on target for the mid-1980s, at least as I remember them; and the set by Marco Turich provided two raised platforms accessible by ladder and steps, with a main entrance in between. One of these platforms that did service for the Balcony Scene and Juliet’s bedroom was set too high, so that at points it was difficult to see quite what was going on.

Despite some rough edges this was a continually thoughtful and engaging production that is targeted very deftly at those coming to the play for the first time. In the absence of traditional repertory theatre it is all the more important that productions such as this go on extensive tours to spread Shakespeare accessibly. We can only wish them well.

Find out more about Immersion Theatre

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ABOUT BRITISHTHEATRE

BritishTheatre.com
Opening Night Media Ltd
3rd Floor, 80 St. Martin’s Lane
Covent Garden
London WC2N 4AA

The British Theatre website has been established to celebrate the rich and diverse theatrical culture of the United Kingdom.  Our ethos revolves around encouraging and nurturing the performing arts in all its forms. The spirit of theatre is very much alive and the British Theatre website is at the forefront of delivering news and information to audiences and enthusiasts everywhere. Our team of theatre journalists and reviewers are working hard to cover productions and news.


We are constantly developing the site and are always open to receiving feedback from our readers. Join our mailing list to be kept informed of all the latest news that is of interest to you..