first night

Romeo and Juliet

Tessa Coates visits the House of Hatfield to review Star-Crossed Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's tragedy.

I first heard the story of Romeo and Juliet in my Year 2 class when I was about eight years old. We got halfway through and Mr. Aldridge asked us if we thought it was going to be a comedy or a tragedy. “Comedy!” we chorused, sat cross- legged on the carpet. It wasn’t. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy. My eight year old self never fully recovered, and it is for this reason that I like to leave productions of Romeo and Juliet halfway through. Much like I like to stop watching Titanic right after they’ve had sex in the back of the car.

On this particular occasion however, I stuck with Star-Crossed Theatre Company’s production to the bitter end and I’m glad I did because it gathered considerable momentum in the second half. The cast seemed to relax into their roles, more at ease with the intensity of the second half than they had been with the comedy of the first.

Shakespeare’s script is literally bristling with sexual innuendo and jokes, but these go right over the audience’s head unless they are complemented with physical performance. Not everyone studied Shakespeare at A-level and it takes a talented performer to make us not only understand, but feel what is going on. Congratulations then must go to Tom Drysdale, who was an excellent Mercutio, and Lois Edmett, who was not only physically very well cast but gave a compelling portrayal of the strong, passionate, naïve Juliet. Charlie Rubin was unfortunately something of a frustrating Romeo, bordering on creepy in his first scene with Juliet, but got into his stride as the play progressed. Underused but noteworthy talents were Ivy Calloway as the Apothecary and Dominic North who hit the mark as Paris, albeit in a pair of extraordinary trousers.

The theme was 1970s Verona, contrasting the tension surrounding the rise of the second Mafia War with the hippy free love vibe, and some nice trousers were ruined in the spirit of becoming flares. Instead of keeping things simple, with a nice, stark contrast between the rival families, everything seemed to have got a bit confused; everyone wore a mix of attire, including the Nurse sporting something from the Georgian period and Benvolio in a Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club t-shirt, which was a decade out of date. It sounds picky but if you’re going to have such a specific theme, everything needs to be in keeping.

My only others criticisms, and they are minor, was the use of music, which played quite loudly over some crucial scenes, hugely detracting from the action, and the fact that the balcony scene took place between the pews in front of the chapel balcony, which was screaming out for a love-struck Juliet to drape herself over it.

Despite some questionable directorial decisions, particularly the lovers killing themselves by injecting themselves with heroin, I was pleasantly surprised by Star-Crossed Theatre Company’s first production, with some lovely moments and a talented cast pulling it clear of the Mediocre Student Shakespeare puddle.

26 November 2010

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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