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Monday, 10 January 2011

Jude Evans reviews Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

Directed by Rupert Goold
Royal Shakespeare Company, The Roundhouse, London
Saturday 1st January 2011


Productions of Romeo and Juliet come fast and furious like Hamlets. Many are good, some very good, but it is rare to find one outstanding. Rupert Goold’s production is just that, a rare gem amongst the masses. Goold exquisitely captures the conflicting worlds of the brutal Catholic Renaissance and Romeo and Juliet’s own isolated, personal sphere.

Goold’s production reminds us of the play’s historical context, something often lost. The setting is Catholic Renaissance Spain where, in the opening scene, Tybalt and his men tie Benvolio to a stake. Bodies whirl across the stage with daggers and rapiers abound. Goold has his cast dressed in traditional Renaissance garb. Tom Scutt’s design brilliantly supports the setting. Flaming fire bursts from a vent, dark steps loom at the rear of the stage ultimately functioning as steps in the vault, and a central stone plinth, with multiple functions, is most importantly the place where Mercutio is wounded and a tomb for the lovers. Richard Katz’s Capulet echoes this brutal world as he violently thrusts wine in his daughter’s face and grabs hold of her with a look of murder in his eyes.

Goold’s innovation is in having Romeo and Juliet detached from this world. Both are costumed in modern dress seemingly distanced from their families. They verge on being out of time and out of space; they don’t truly fit into the Renaissance environment of the other characters.

Mariah Gale’s Juliet appears detached from the world she has been brought up in from the very start. We first meet her playing with a toy whip whilst her mother suggests marriage to Paris. She is more in love with death than Paris, preferring ‘dead men’s rattling bones’ than being married to him. This Juliet knows her own mind. She demonstrates a maturity beyond her years in taking the vial from Friar Lawrence, yet she never removes too far from her youthfulness seen when tripping over at the excitement of marrying her beloved Romeo.

Sam Troughton’s Romeo shares with his Juliet a mature yet still youthful nature (he jumps at realising Juliet is very much in love with him). He grows during their encounters, and after realising the full force of his act in killing Tybalt. Like his Juliet, Troughton’s Romeo shows a keen desire for death, rather being united in death with his beloved than to live in the dark, brutal world from which they have sprung.

The fierceness of reality penetrates through the lovers’ sphere in the form of Jonjo O’Neill’s Mercutio. His Mercutio possesses a perturbed imagination, and O’Neill conveys this through manic mimes and fantastic enacting of all he speaks, always drawing a guffaw of laughter from the audience. But despite the laughs, his dark language reverberates around the stage. It is a light gone out when O’Neill’s Mercutio leaves the stage at his death. The stage soon plunges into darkness as the lighting dims for the rest of the production. The resonant ‘you shall find me a grave man’ painfully remains with us until the production’s close. Jonjo O’Neill is that rare thing, an excellent Mercutio.

Forbes Masson and Noma Dumezweni provide superb support as Friar Lawrence and the Nurse. Both are excellent in their overlapping scenes as flawed mentors to Romeo and Juliet. Masson’s Friar is all too aware of his part in the lovers’ tragedy and Dumezweni’s Nurse is struck by the apparent death of her ‘prettiest babe’.

Excellent direction from Goold and sublime performances from Gale, Troughton, and O’Neill make this Romeo and Juliet an exhilarating production to watch. It will be all too welcome back in Stratford this spring.

Romeo and Juliet will be back in Stratford-upon-Avon running at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 3rd March - 2nd April.

Romeo and Juliet photos by Ellie Kurttz

Jude Evans, age 22

1 comment:

  1. I'd thought I'd seen enough productions of Romeo and Juliet to last me for a while, but I saw this production and was blown away. So much so that I am coming to see it again when it transfers to the new RST. Mariah Gale and Sam Troughton were fantastic as Romeo and Juliet, and the staging was very clever indeed. Highly recommended.

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