Romeo and Juliet. Infamous for their love. A story that we all know. The one that Shakespeare is probably most famed for.
This love story has been retold for over 400 years, and due to such familiarity, it poses a tricky task. Yes, it is probably a safe bet in terms of drawing in various audiences (who doesn’t love a doomed tale of star-crossed lovers?) but it is equally risky. Do you change it? Do you add your own interpretation or even words to the masterpiece of William himself? How can you make a 400 year old love story something that contemporary audiences can resonate with?
This current version of the play has a run until the 21st March at the Rose Theatre in Kingston Upon Thames (a leafy suburb of London.) And most likely because of its location, the prices for this play are reasonably cheap. Particularly the tickets that we paid for on our visit last night. The Rose Theatre do this fantastic deal, where (for certain productions) you can pay £8 to sit in the ‘Pit Cushions’. This basically means that you sit on the floor in the space in front of the stage. You either bring your own cushion or borrow one from the theatre. Simple. This deal is so fantastic, as you get a very good view. (If not one of the best.) Now, I naively thought that only young people would be snapping up these tickets, but to the far right of me, a pair of elderly ladies seemed to be quite content soaking in the Shakespeare with their cushions. I really think this is a great idea – and it’s something I’ve never experienced before. I’m not sure I could really go back to normal seating again. There is something much more comfortable and informal about watching a play on the floor. (I did cheekily take my shoes off.) I think the reason I loved it so much was because it reminded me of being in Primary School and sitting cross-legged for story time. And this is exactly what theatre is. Just a shinier-more-glorified-adult-version of it.
Now to talk about the actual play (rather than my love for the floor.) This production took some bold risks. From the fact that Mercutio was a woman (which I very much appreciated) to the addition of a character that doesn’t exist – Pedro. (Basically a servant of the Capulet household.) It took me a little while to settle into this version and to let go of the Baz Luhrmann adaptation (step aside Leo) but once I did I was swept away by the direction of Sally Cookson. She and the music maestro Benji Bower created a very intense story that pulsated and exploded in key moments throughout the play. There were moments of dance and physical theatre to highlight important emotional points that really gave this adaptation its edge.
Apart from the fantastic portrayals given by both Romeo and Juliet (especially the Nurse, she stole every scene she was in) praise must be given to the set designers. They’ve created a very dynamic stage, with different levels, that were used most effectively throughout the performance. I was very surprised at the athleticism of the actors, as they ran across the stage, climbed up the set and jumped down again. It really utilised the space and made for a fast-paced dynamic show. By having these explosive moments, they made the emotional scenes even more reflective and more powerful. Having this stark contrast really worked to the play’s advantage. And equally made the dance/musical elements of the play make sense and hold more validity in their addition.
All in all, if you fancy a lovely evening (or afternoon) I heartedly recommend paying a visit to Kingston and seeing this adaptation of one of the best love stories to have ever been written.
“For never was there a story of more woe,
than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”