Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Toby King
Venue: Drama Barn
It is very easy to do a bad performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The speech may own the actor rather than the actor owning the speech, the love can seem unrealistic (after all, the relationship is one of mere days) and the entire play can become monotonous under the weight of its own reputation. Not so for this production. Under the hand of director Toby King and assistant director Edd Riley we see an original construction of the play, which is engaging in its darkness.
The cast, headed up by Mathew Roberts and Saffia Sage, who play Romeo and Juliet respectively, take a grip of the language and allow the poetry to shine without becoming overshadowed. Indeed we get the sense throughout that the words are fresh, of the moment; there are no static speeches here. We get passion and tears and awkwardness just as we should. The nurse had us laughing out loud. Paris had us cringing.
A special mention must be made of Jason Ryall who brought Mercutio to life. His Mercutio was one of undeniable emotion, and the intensity Mercutio has shone out reflecting the shadowy nature of the state in the Queen Mab speech. Whilst his death was emotive displaying of far more feeling than I had ever seen before. Leaving the audience shaken as he ominously condemned the lovers with “a plague on both your houses”.
The set itself was also wholly contributory to the engagingness of the production though its nature was one of simplicity; a scattering of boxes, a black mattress and red pillow, skulls on the wall. The lighting was used to create shadows and intense patches of light which when paired with the military costume of most of the cast (they had chosen a collapsing state as the context for the lovers plight) gave a threatening feel which haunted the play from the opening lights. Detail though had even been given to the initial soundtrack which built the atmosphere as we waited for the plays inception.
The audience felt a part of the action as we sat facing each other with the center of the room as the stage, and whilst this did give room for some at times distracting pacing to-and-fro, it ultimately gave the effect of increasing the action’s tangibility causing the plot to become more effective.
Although long, this play did not feel it. It owned Shakespeare’s poetry in a unique way. The atmosphere entirely individual though it portrayed one of the most performed plays. Certainly something worth seeing.