first night

Romeo and Juliet

Daisy Cummins heads to Britain's favourite building for Britain's favourite play.

Walking down the nave of Durham Cathedral is always a humbling experience, but in the anticipation for this February’s Romeo and Juliet the magnificence of the architecture further electrifies the atmosphere. The stone pillars and the infectious gloom of the unlit ceiling create an idyllic setting for a classic re-telling of the tragedy in a truly unique location. Centred in the crossing of the cathedral, the thrust stage permits maximum visibility though admittedly not all actions performed by the entrance to the gilded shrine are clear for every audience member.

What is clear from the outset however is the incredible effort that has gone into sourcing exuberant costumes and props to give the production every essence of authenticity. From the lace adorned masks, heavily patterned tunics, highly polished rapiers and a jaw dropping number of men in tights, Matt Dann’s production is as traditional as it is a magnificent spectacle. Rosy lighting ages the stage alluding to a sepia screen effect, ideal for Shakespeare’s infamous romantic tragedy. Unfortunately technical issues with microphones marred the opening scene along with the visibility of lit torches on stage left, which (as an audience member sat in effectively the right wing) was a reminder that what we were witnessing was not real, but staged theatre. Though microphones were adjusted, the torches continue to reappear throughout the production ‘offstage’ which completely distracts one of the three blocks of audience’s attention away from Romeo’s iconic ‘arms take your last embrace’ speech.

Despite technical falters which intermittently obscure the reality of the drama, every single cast member physically and vocally commits to their character. Though admittedly moments arise when certain characters miss opportunities to explore depth and indulge in excessive emotion, generally the cast is strong and works as a unit. The lovers themselves played devoutly by David Myers and Serena Gosling each carry their own presence onstage, and so when united demand complete attention. Aligning with the traditional vein of this production, Dann’s direction over the pair seems to focus on their youth and conviction to every word uttered. Myers’ command of the meter is second to none, his understanding of the correct delivery of his lines permit him to celebrate the poetry of the script. An evident bubbling of energy is harnessed by Myers in Romeo’s angst, which with incredible facial focus creates total conviction. The pair move across the stage comfortably with a natural connection, though with certain kisses romantic tension is less tangible and thus results in moments which feel somewhat staged. Nevertheless the pair provide an absorbing account of the star crossed lovers’ tragedy. Gosling’s vocal capacity is infrequently stretched, though when it is, provides glimpses of a maturity and understanding in Juliet containing a great deal of potential for further exploration of the woman inside the girl. In a three hour Shakespeare experience a little variation never goes amiss.  Nonetheless Gosling’s facial expressionism and physicality is stunning, her delicate features when in aguish paint a perfectly classical portrait of Juliet and her suffering.

Naturally as with any staging of a Shakespearean play pace is always a difficult issue to deal with. The pace is this production’s weakness as though the second half of the performance is darker than the first, the pace must quicken. The scene in which the Capulets discover Juliet ‘dead’ is incredibly drawn out and could easily be condensed for the sake of the production. However as a scene it allows Dann to showcase the extensive talents of his cast; Tom McNulty exhibits the tenderness of a Lord Capulet who has previously shown merciless authority, and Alex Morgan is permitted to complicate Paris from a ridiculous suitor into a compassionate and earnest man. An outstanding performance throughout the play is given by Georgie Franklin as the Nurse whose warmth and sincerity in her humour reaches the outer edges of the audience; her tears and wails hold such a weight with us that when she loses hope at the sight of a limp Juliet, we too momentarily indulge in her grief.

The stunningly beautiful and imposing venue which provides a truly astonishing setting immortalises the balcony scene in the pulpit which is poignantly reversed when Romeo first sights Juliet at the ball. Such moments feel artistically authentic and enrich this production which delivers all that it pledges. Although technical issues and pacing did not permit the productions’ first night to be as striking as its potential promises, the incredible standard of acting and commitment to the tragedy both on and off stage make CTC’s Romeo and Juliet a production to be seen. A classic drama in a magnificent location and a brilliantly talented cast driven by traditional direction; you’d be a fool to bite your thumb at this one, Sir.


Daisy Cummins

10 February 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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