wed 16/08/2017

Romeo and Juliet, West Yorkshire Playhouse | reviews, news & interviews

Romeo and Juliet, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Romeo and Juliet, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Shakespeare with added smartphones

Tessa Parr and Dann Parr as Romeo and JulietAnthony Robling

Amy Leach’s energetic Romeo and Juliet is fast, furious and a little breathless, the setting transposed from Verona to a fairly grim contemporary Leeds. Think West Yorkshire Side Story. Leach’s starting point was hearing about conflict resolution in a local high school created by merging a pair of formerly rival institutions, and her programme note also explicitly links the production to a divided post-Brexit Britain, a place where long-buried differences have fractured previously stable relationships. And the energy is specific to modern Leeds, which each summer hosts a hedonistic music festival, a bout of post-exam, pre-adult alcoholic craziness held in the grounds of a stately home on the city’s fringes.

Elexi Walker as MercutioThe younger members of Leach’s cast are superb; it’s initially disconcerting to hear them wrestling with iambic pentameters but they pull it off, helped by a lively cast of adolescent extras. Dan Parr’s Romeo and Tessa Parr’s Juliet look, speak and behave exactly like hormonally-charged teenagers, their love wholly credible. Many of the adults pale by comparison; Keiran Flynn’s Montague and Jack Lord’s Capulet both grumpy older blokes in dark suits, suggesting a pair of teachers attempting to rein in their unruly charges. There’s a brief glimpse of the Capulet manor as a low-rent boxing gym – a lovely touch which is only seen once. Hayley Grindle’s spare set, all concrete walkways and harsh sunlight, proves infinitely adaptable, aided by Tom Mills’s sound design; an arena for Kate Waters’s brilliantly choreographed, viscerally exciting fights and the setting for the sweetest of balcony scenes.

The scuffles are genuinely thrilling, Leach’s idea of having the gang members film the blows on their smartphones a neat touch. Shakespeare’s cruder humour has rarely been so plainly spoken; hearing an audience full of children and teenagers giggling loudly is a real pleasure. Bawdiest of the lot is Elexi Walker’s raucous Mercutio (pictured above right), chewing up the minimal scenery to the extent that the production never quite recovers its mojo after she’s been stabbed by Tachia Newall’s scowling Tybalt. Susan Cookson almost fills the gap as a very lewd, very Yorkshire Nurse, but, post-interval, there’s an intermittent slackening of pace.

Romeo and Juliet, West Yorkshire PlayhouseNatalie Anderson’s chilly Lady Capulet (pictured left) is another standout, along with Olwen May’s very modern Reverend Laurence, overseeing a very modern but tender marriage ceremony between the two lovers. The final minutes are devastating: the hoodie-clad Apothecary who sells Romeo the poison is a truly scary presence, leading to an excruciating death scene. There are a few minor quibbles; diction is not always ideally clear, and the range of regional accents can confuse. But, overall, an involving, energetic update which takes risks and largely succeeds.

Think West Yorkshire Side Story

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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