Last week I went to watch a live theatre streaming of Romeo & Juliet at my local cinema, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I studied this play at school and it became one of my favourite works of Shakespeare, so I was a little nervous that finally being able to see it on stage would not live up to my very high expectations. However, I absolutely loved the bold modern version brought to life by director Erica Whyman.
Nursing the bitter rejection of his adored Rosaline, Romeo Montague is taken to a masked party by his friends Benvolio and Mercutio. There he falls instantly in love with the beautiful Juliet. However, Juliet is of the Capulet family, sworn enemies of the Montagues. The couple’s desperate fight to be together leads to one of the most infamous forbidden love stories of all time.
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life…
Shaking it Up!
This performance of Romeo & Juliet was set in the modern age – masked balls became discos, duels descended into street brawls, flowing gowns transformed into jeans and hoodies. I liked these touches as they really brought out the continued relevance of the play. Characters and creatives mentioned in interviews how they were inspired by the horrific statistics of knife crime in London and the perceived political divide between younger and older generations.
A massively diverse cast was also a fantastic aspect of this performance, with a spectrum of ages, genders, races, shapes and sizes on stage. Interestingly, some of the traditionally male roles were played by women, most notably the Prince and Mercutio. I thought this was a creative way to give more great performance opportunities to women on stage.
Bally Gill’s Romeo and Karen Fishwick’s Juliet captured the intensity and innocence of the couple’s love but also incorporated moments of light-heartedness into their performances that brought out a number of audience chuckles. Other performances that I loved were Juliet’s very entertaining Nurse (played by Ishia Bennison) and the adorably kind-hearted but bumbling Benvolio (played by Josh Finan).
My Mum came with me to this performance and had a wonderful time; it was her first experience of Shakespeare which goes to show that you really can follow what is going on even if you’ve never read the play. However, it was a very stripped-back performance and she admitted that she would have preferred some more elaborate staging. Personally, I liked the fact that our focus was really brought to the individual performances, but if you prefer more dramatic backdrops then perhaps you might enjoy a big, colourful comedy such as Twelfth Night more!
You can read my reviews of performances of other Shakespeare plays here:
Have you read any of Shakespeare’s plays or seen them performed? What did you think? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!