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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon


  Noma Dumezweni and Mariah Gale/ Ph: Ellie Kurttz

Hoodies on bicycles, street fights with flashing swords, plain chant singing, brocaded boleros and bovver boots, Veronese splendour and drugs on street corners: Rupert Goold’s thrilling revival of Romeo and Juliet may sound like a mish mash, but there’s method in it, as the young lovers in jeans and plimsolls are sucked into the vortex of a Renaissance family conflict.

It’s far less a perverse reading of a great play than was his RSC debut with an Arctic-bound The Tempest (initiating a collaboration with Patrick Stewart that led to the kitchen cabinet Macbeth) and, with a brave and confident use of the Courtyard spaces – actors appear like statues at the circle level, too – Goold has unlocked the rushing dynamic and narrative urgency of the play.

Few recent RSC revivals have managed this, and the surprise casting of Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale as the star-crossed lovers, playing adolescent pain and impetuosity to the hilt, is the key factor. Troughton wanders onto the stage as a tourist in his own story, even taking photographs of pretty girls in the front row; he may be in love with Rosaline, but he’s susceptible to other charms, as we soon find out.

And while the Capulet family prepares for the ball with golden masks, trays of sweetmeats, and decorative lights that descend from the sky like twinkling braziers, Gale’s Juliet stands firm against the marriage plans with Paris (“an honour that I dream not of”) in a mood of sulky resistance.

But caught up in the abandoned whirl of the stomping, suggestive dance, she is literally thrown in the way of Romeo, and their instant obsession spills over into the street brawling heat of the moment. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea” just about sums it up for both of them; the limitless horizon of their love is genuinely moving and tragically denied.

Goold’s stage, in Tom Scutt’s excellent design, has fissures in the stone flags that gush forth smoke and flame as the pace heats up, and flames lick around the raised inner stage, too, which serves as the balcony and the entrance to the mausoleum; the family dining table is also the lid of a tomb, and imagery of death in the writing is everywhere in the action, and not just when Juliet predicts her wedding bed her grave.

The death of Tybalt is staged with tremendous verve – Troughton’s crazed Romeo strangling him with a rope before stabbing with a knife, powered by raw grief and anger over the death of Mercutio. For once you can understand this, as Jonjo O’Neill, one of the real stand-outs in Michael Boyd’s long-term ensemble so far, is an electrifying Mercutio, consumed by his own words, cursed with surplus energy and hilariously, incorrigibly mocking of any hint of nobility in the opposition.

When he goes, gaping like a clown, red-nosed in his own blood, spreading his hands like Al Jolson singing “Mammy,” the stage for once is truly bereft of its favourite character. For Christine Entwisle’s grieving Lady Capulet, the death of Tybalt drives her literally insane, and she runs in circles of delirium around the stage before Richard Katz as a fearsome Capulet lays down the law with brutish heaviness toward their daughter.

The opening scene is heavily cut, and there is no putting up of pipes and begone in the wedding preparation, alas. But the rest is discharged speedily and with a good emphasis, on the whole, Forbes Masson making a sympathetic Friar Laurence for once of the tiresome old meddling hand-wringer, and Noma Dumezweni finding new notes of self-defence and assertive gossip-mongering as a pipe-smoking Nurse in a silk overcoat.

The music and soundtrack by Adam Cork mixes modern elements in a Spanish/African style, and Howard Harrison’s lighting creates great height and depth for the fateful tomb scenes and sharpens the focus mercilessly for Terry King’s terrific fight sequences and Georgina Lamb’s dances. So Goold the golden boy continues on his way; with work this contagious and intelligent, you wouldn’t wish him any less success than he already has.



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