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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Romeo And Juliet
Shakespeare's Globe    March 2021

This 2019 production from Shakespeare's Globe is clean, clear, fast-moving and eminently accessible exactly the kind of production the Globe should be offering.

Its largely tourist audience are clearly held and entertained, and no doubt come away surprised and delighted that they actually understood and enjoyed Shakespeare. And the students who, judging by YouTube's comments section, have been sent to this excellent video version by their teachers, will find their homework assignment remarkably painless.

There are, of course, some trade-offs and losses to this accessibility (about which more later) but on the whole it is a pretty good bargain.

Director Michael Oakley has cut the play down to barely 90 minutes, eliminating minor characters and incidents, so the plot line is always clear. Modern dress sweeps away some of the cobwebs and makes a few casting choices both Benvolio and Tybalt are played by women as women easy to absorb, and even allows for a bit of street dancing at the Capulet ball.

If Charlotte Beaumont is a little too ironic and knowing to be a traditional Juliet, Nathan Walsh makes Romeo a believably and attractively love-sick adolescent.

And Michael Oakley makes better use of the Globe's unique space than almost any other director whose work I've seen there.

When actor Sam Wanamaker devoted much of his life to getting this replica of Shakespeare's original theatre built, one of his hopes was that putting the plays in their original space would teach us something about them. But most Globe productions are more-or-less the same as they would be on conventional proscenium stages.

Oakley cleverly spotted that the wide stage and surrounding audience meant that actors had to keep moving, to avoid playing to only one segment and ignoring the others. So his actors are constantly crossing the stage back and forth, often in a figure-8 pattern that loops around the pillars at each end, making eye contact with more people and drawing the audience into the play.

(That the constant movement also suggests the nervous energy of youth can only help with the characterisations and reality of the play.)

So this is a Romeo And Juliet that everyone can understand and enjoy. But, as I warned, there is a price.

Cutting the text for clarity means that almost all the poetry, all the characterisations, and all the mood-setting are lost. We get the plot of Romeo And Juliet, but too little of what makes Romeo And Juliet a great play.

Except for the central couple, all the other characters are reduced to plot functionaries with little or no personality, with Debbie Chazen's bland Nurse and Jeff Alexander's faceless Friar particular casualties.. Only Ned Derrington's Mercutio, manic to a point approaching mental instability, is given much acting to do.

A female Benvolio works all right, but turning Tybalt into a girl makes Mercutio's (and later Romeo's) picking a fight with her a little awkward to play. And that street dancing is ultimately a little silly, especially when all the copses rise at the end to reprise it.

So this is not a R&J for those who know the play and love it for its poetry and rich characterisations. It is, however, one I would happily send a tourist or student to, and if discovering that they can understand and enjoy Shakespeare inspired them to try again with another play or another production of this one so much the better.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe online 2021