Review: Romeo & Juliet

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Rocket Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet takes the classic tale and gives it a 90s spin, allowing for some enjoyably modern alterations whilst keeping the heart of the story. 

Upon entering the venue we are greeted by a two-tiered stage setup that is perfectly designed with outdoor vines for the floor and a typical 90s apartment for the indoor action on the raised stage. Co-Directors and have delivered a great retelling of one of Shakespeare’s finest and they utilise the tiered staging to have the scenes flow quickly into each other and have action occurring simultaneously in two settings. Watching Romeo learn of Juliet’s ‘death’ far away whilst she lay still in her tomb behind him was particularly striking imagery and the directing team delivered an inventive production across the board. 

Corcoran is impressive as he bounces between the vulnerability of young love and violent anger

’s Romeo has all the tortured romanticism of past iterations, but the character’s brashness and violent impulses are softened here which effectively keeps audiences’ sympathy for our male hero in this more modern setting. Corcoran is impressive as he bounces between the vulnerability of young love and the violent anger at seeing Tybalt (an intimidating Anna Krebs) dead. He plays well off the comedic duo of Benvolio (Izzy Da-Silva) and Mercutio (Felicity Rickard), who make for hilarious drunks but still do well in more emotional moments, but Corcoran’s scenes with Juliet are a highlight and he achieves the conviction and desperation necessary for the play’s tragic end. 

as Juliet is excellent and her modern spin on the character is probably the best argument for the production’s more contemporary setting. Her Juliet is strong, knowing and capable of some effectively sarcastic line readings which really deepen the character. Norman-Taylor also allows Juliet to have a coyness and a mature emotionality in her interactions with Corcoran and this makes their love story a more equal one. Both Corcoran and Norman-Taylor have a nice chemistry and capture the youthful infatuation of their characters, as well as the pure devastation of learning of each other’s death. However, their chemistry and the show in general lack the raw passion that makes the darkly melodramatic actions, like dying with your love of just a few days, slightly unconvincing. But for a softer, more modern production I understand why the lighter tone and more muted performances were chosen. 

The ensemble is used to great effect in the staging

The rest of the cast here round out the play well and the ensemble is used to great effect in the staging by Pilkington and Proctor, particularly in the party scene. Both as the Nurse and as Friar Lawrence are the standouts in the supporting cast as they both warn their young charges and then have to witness their doom. Sykes brings a tired wisdom and a wry disapproval to the Friar and her scenes with Corcoran prove her skill. In the play’s first half, she lightly advises Romeo against his obsession with love with a funny and dry delivery and in the second she effectively switches to darker warnings and is a voice of reason throughout. Similarly, Mather is just wonderful in every scene, attacking her character’s flustered rambling with great comedic skill and providing much of the play’s laughs. She also takes advantage of the 90s context to let the nurse go toe to toe with the male characters and be unrestrained in her protection of Juliet. She is an undeniable dramatic force as she plays these nuances and she is incredibly strong in her emotional moments, her discovery of Juliet’s seemingly dead body was particularly effective. 

All the women here are more empowered and none more so than Lady Capulet (Milly Adams) who is deliciously despicable in the role. Matched well by ’s softer take on Lord Capulet, Adams proves to be the real power in the Capulet household, turning aggressively patriarchal scenes on the page into something like a 90s sitcom (with matching dressing gowns and all). Their admonishments of Juliet, therefore, lose the abusive aspects that would have undercut a lot of the great lightness brought by the actors and directors, and Norman-Taylor also flips Juliet’s submissive silence on the page to give some greatly comedic facial reactions to her parents. 

Overall, both cast and crew should be proud of this more contemporary production which was full of great performances, effective pacing and inventive modernisations which made this Romeo and Juliet truly worth the watch

The lighting was simple but effective as it switched between red and blue to represent the Capulet and Montague allegiances and the colour-coded costumes followed suit, whilst keeping a fantastically 90s vibe. Kate Brokeman, the fighting director, must also be given credit for adapting fencing duels into tense and convincing knife fights that brought the dramatic stakes necessary for this show. Overall, both cast and crew should be proud of this more contemporary production which was full of great performances, effective pacing and inventive modernisations which made this Romeo and Juliet truly worth the watch. 

Image by Rocket Theatre Company

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