A play so iconic and known that it seems daft to summarise, but I will for those of you who don’t know the story of Juliet and her Romeo.
In this version of Shakespeare’s tragic love story, it is set in a modern, contemporary Verona, where the houses of Montague and Capulet, for generations have been feuding and where the play starts with the respective loyal servants for both houses brawling in the streets.
Directed by Erica Whyman, the play introduces us to Romeo (Bally Gill) shortly after the street brawl, who is tormented and unabashedly in love with Rosaline and heartbroken at being rejected. With his friends Benvolio and Mercutio, played by highly energetic and frantic, Charlotte Josephine, they convince Romeo that to take his mind of his one true love they must gate-crash a masked ball held at the Capulet’s.
Here at the ball is where he meets and falls in love with Juliet (Karen Fishwick). Of course, as young as they both are their love is frantic and without abandon, which continues throughout the play convincingly. Ultimately it is doomed, as they realise who they both are in the famous balcony scene, after which the downfall and the tragic circumstances that lead to both their deaths and their families finally understanding the gravity of their rivalry.
The production and sequence of the masked ball with the lights coming down was charming and added the mix when Romeo and Juliet first meet, with the rock music and the families slow dancing whilst the two meet and fall in love is effectively done.
The chemistry between the two leads is one of the best I’ve seen in this adaptation of the play.
Bally Gill’s portrayal of Romeo is charming, funny, energetic, frantic and fierce. Gill’s performance makes us feel for his heartache of Rosaline and then believe in his love for Juliet, without seeming too cheesy and dated.
Fishwick’s portrayal of Juliet is equally as brilliant, a strong female character, determined to get her love. With the regional accent, her comedic timing is spot on. Hearing a Scottish version of ‘O Romeo, Romeo’ and hearing the word ‘murder’ in that accent hits the nail on the head and make one of the most iconic scenes hilarious.
The comedy is done really well, the stand out performances are Bally Gill’s Romeo and Ishia Bennison, nurse to Juliet. Their relationship is closer to mother and daughter than that of Lady Capulet, played by Mariam Haque, who plays the part clearly as a woman afraid and unsure of herself with little or no authority including over her own daughter.
As the story unfolds and Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin who has wanted Romeo’s head for daring to show up and the ball) and Mercutio’s deathly fight leads to the tragic consequences of Romeo and Juliet’s untimely demise, the use of ghosts for both characters in the final scene in the grave are haunting and a stark reminder of the conflict between the two houses.
Some of the best elements of this play, for me personally, were Bally Gill and Karen Fishwick’s chemistry and portrayal of the lead characters. Also seeing such a diverse cast, the South Asian Romeo, a female Mercutio & Prince Escalus who command authority and swagger when on set is refreshing to see, however, both roles are still masculine in their portrayals and the gender swap works.
The production and use of a giant cube on set to highlight various scenes, including many between the two lead pair, was effectively used. It emphasised the distance between Romeo and Juliet in their desire to be together but just constantly out of reach.
The play was enjoyable, funny and modern. A fresh take on the worlds most famous and tragic love story with a diverse cast that makes you wonder why it’s ever an issue for a BAME actor to play a lead character and a female to play a male role.
Romeo and Juliet will be playing until 21st September 2018 and be heading to the Barbican London from the 2nd November 2018 – 19th January 2019. For booking enquiries head over the RSC official site or call their Box Office on 01789 403493
Mani’s Madness rating 4/5