review by Nick CurtisGlobe director Dominic Dromgoole kicks off the 2009 season with his own simple and startlingly youthful production of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy.
The staging of this Romeo and Juliet is straightforward, the verse speaking clear. And though Adetomiwa Edun and Ellie Kendrick never quite reach the required extremes of passion and despair, they take ownership of the lead roles and root the play in a teenage milieu.
Dromgoole’s Tudor-costumed production doesn’t strive for contemporary relevance, but it’s there. This is, after all, a play about passion and violence among the young, full of bravado and images of stabbing.
Edun’s boyishly handsome Romeo is a dreamer amid a pack of boisterous lads. Kendrick’s diminutive Juliet comes across as a pert bluestocking, her overprotective daddy’s girl.
When Romeo first overhears her praising him in the balcony scene, he bites his knuckles in unbelieving delight. She is touchingly sideswiped by love. This Verona is no place for romantics, though. When Ukweli Roach, as Juliet’s bloodthirsty cousin Tybalt, stalks the stage, the air is heavy with menace. Philip Cumbus’s Mercutio is drily witty but easily enraged. Swagger tips into tragedy, a duel becomes a vicious, fatal brawl.
Young casting is a double-edged sword. What you gain in freshness you lose in experience. Kendrick evokes a hurt child in the face of her father’s wrath, but is stumped by Juliet’s tumult of emotions after her lover is banished for killing her cousin.
Edun gives his Romeo a witty touch of teenage histrionics, but takes the news of Juliet’s supposed death as if it’s a disappointing football result.
Dromgoole’s production has plenty of nice touches alongside occasional duff notes.
The characters of Juliet’s father and her nurse, often caricatured or neglected, are given full life. Other key figures fare less well.
Nigel Hess’s live music is well used to indicate shifts in place, mood, or time on the bare and floodlit stage. which has been extended into the Globe’s standing-room pit and topped with a spiral staircase that trips people up.
The interaction with the crowd is tokenish, the clowning coarse. But that’s par for the course here, or in any al fresco theatre. Dromgoole even has the confidence to hint that some of Shakespeare’s lesser witticisms are deliberately lame.
The poetry comes over strong in this Romeo and Juliet, and the sense of young adults caught up in feelings and feuds they don’t really understand. What’s missing, finally, is the passion. The lovers are believable and authentic: their love, sadly, isn’t quite.