By Émer O’Toole, Editor in Chief
The Globe Theatre’s tour of Romeo and Juliet brings Shakespeare’s tragedy back to basics in a wonderfully authentic way.
The production begins with the ‘travelling players’ walking through the audience before the performance starts with a song and a dance that would have been the signal that the play was about to begin in Shakespeare’s day. Andrew D Edwards’ set adheres to the Elizabethan touring model with a traditional booth stage that Globe Theatre Director, Dominic Dromgoole, said was ‘inspired by Elizabethan paintings and etchings.’ The lights were kept on to replicate the outdoor venues of the sixteenth century.
With this kind of production, it is easier to appreciate the skill of the cast because the success of the play depends on how well they engage with the audience in the absence of any change of scenery. This performance does it well, from the second the opening dance begins to Juliet’s death. The cast consists of eight actors who play all the roles and the text has been adapted so that some roles can be played almost simultaneously. Some of the more rapid transitions came from Tom Kanji, who morphed from Friar Laurence to Benvolio in a split second shrug of his shrawl- and did the same trick in reverse with a cough and a climb of a ladder. Steffan Donnelly gave a memorable performance as Mercutio, snaking around the stage in a lithe fashion and hissing out his lines. Steven Elder was an excellent Capulet, especially when exploding with rage at Juliet when she refuses to marry Paris in the second act.
Differing to some of the heavier Shakespearian tragedies, Romeo and Juliet benefits from some lighter, humorous moments in the early acts. Sarah Higgins, who made her professional debut in the National Theatre of Scotland’s The James Plays, is lively and engaging as the no-nonsense Scottish nurse, despite being somewhat hard to follow at times.
The use of music to bookend the action worked particularly well considering the traditional staging, and showcased the diverse talents of the cast. Kevin McCurdy deserves credit for choreographing some impressive fight scenes and Martin McKellan’s voice and dialect choices enhanced the show, with character accents from Yorkshire, Scotland and the North East.
Cassie Layton gave a fine performance as the distressed Juliet and Samuel Valentine excelled as her youthful, red-haired Romeo even though, at times, their relationship felt more playful than passionate. Possibly one of the few stories that doesn’t need a ‘spoiler alert’ before one divulges the plot, knowing the ending did not lessen the impact the performance had on the audience. The show closed with an unexpected but entertaining Flamenco dance.
Small criticisms aside, directors Dominic Drumgoole and Tim Hoare have created a passionate and well-paced show, punctuated by musical interludes, that spins out delicately and invitingly from the opening song, and rounds itself off in the same vein.var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);