The Theatreguide.London Review
Barbican Theatre Winter 2018-2019
Almost sixty years ago director Franco Zeffirelli and the Royal Shakespeare Company taught us the secret to Romeo And Juliet – no more middle-aged actors pretending to be teenagers. Cast a young couple who convey the excitement and confusion of first love, and all the rest falls into place.
For this RSC production director Erica Whyman has done just that, and everything that matters about the play is successfully there.
Bally Gill's Romeo has a thoroughly engaging mix of adolescent awkwardness and inspired flights of poetry, while Karen Fishwick's Juliet grows up before our – and her own – eyes, frequently surprising herself with her depth of feeling and insight.
Fishwick makes more of the scene in which Juliet is torn by her conflicting feelings about Tybalt's death and Romeo's banishment than any other actress I've ever seen, but she is still able to convey a believable hint of teenage poutiness in her rebellion against her father.
There is more to Erica Whyman's concept and staging of the play, almost none of it as effective as she thinks, though none really getting in Shakespeare's way either.
In a programme note she makes much of her decision to change Mercutio and a few minor figures into female characters.
Actress Charlotte Josephine plays Mercutio as the sort of spiky tomboy who hangs around with the guys (and who, in a typical rom-com, would put on a dress in the final scene and prove to be sweet and feminine). But the gender change really adds nothing to the character or the play.
Nor does director Whyman's conviction that in a modern dress production – in a silly moment the Capulet ball is turned into a rave – all the knife fighting will resonate toward the current real-world epidemic of teenage knife crime.
Few in the secondary cast really register. Andrew French's Friar has an attractive masculine power to back up his moral force – he's the sort of clergyman who would coach the football team in his spare time.
But Ishia Bennison's northern housewife Nurse has too little depth or earthy humour, and the essential emotional bond between her and Juliet isn't there.
Just keep your attention on the central couple, and this Romeo And Juliet will deliver.
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