Romeo and Juliet
West Yorkshire Playhouse
8 March 2017
Forget moonlit balconies and gentle music -Shakespeare’s tale of doomed love, Romeo and Juliet, is essentially a story driven by energy and passion; the white-hot energy of teenage love drives a naïve young couple into a union that can only be seen as hasty and reckless; passion and hatred between their two warring families then rips that union apart. In this West Yorkshire Playhouse production director, Amy Leach has recognised this and personified this energy in the form of a community chorus of twenty talented local young people who do an excellent job. As combatants and chorus, their energy and passion shines consistently through, from scenes of horseplay spilling over into gang violence, to dancing to Donna Summer at Capulet’s party, to a final unforgettable sombre image as they hold their mobile phones aloft in an eerie salute to the dead. It’s choreographed, it’s disciplined and it adds a powerful drive to this to a production of a play about love in which Shakespeare invested with some of his wordiest expositions on the subject.
It’s traditionally a play which poses the issue of how to cast leads who are both sufficiently young to play the part, yet mature enough to embrace the nuances of the text; here the two leads commit themselves 100% to this challenge. Dan Parr as Romeo imbues his speeches with a defiant classroom bravado, Tessa Parr as Juliet has almost a note of panic, verging at times on hysteria in her voice as if realising the power of her feelings and the plight they put her in; ultimately both come across as hapless victims driven by the currents of running, jostling and shouting going on around them.
In the rest of the cast Leach has made some thought provoking choices; Elexi Walker as a female Mercutio gives the character a taunting streetwise sensibility that adds a radically different dimension to her mocking diatribes and adds a new sense to her brawl with Tybalt. Olwen May as keen gardener Reverend Lawrence gives a troubled picture of someone who’s good intentions are simply no match for the violence and malice of the forces around her. Mention must also be made of Natalie Anderson as a brassy, trophy-wife Lady Montague who despite her cava tippling stance and flirting with Tybalt somehow manages to convey how emotionally like her daughter Juliet she herself must once have actually been.
A stark concrete set by Hayley Grindle evokes graffiti-ed inner city sink estates, sultry lighting and smoke bring to life a summer that is hot in every sense of the word as the young people run, dash, jump and leap in all directions.
At the interval and the end- especially at the end- the audience, which included a large element of young people, erupted with a spontaneous cheering, whooping enthusiasm- it was the perfect response to this enjoyable production.
Until 25 March 2017