Romeo and Juliet
West Yorkshire Playhouse 10/03/17
Romeo and Juliet is a difficult play to perform, at risk of falling into tropes of tired convention and Shakespearean stereotype. However, the ongoing production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse was youthful, diverse and managed to capture some of the themes and motifs often left out of performances of Romeo and Juliet.
This production moves away from traditional Shakespearean costume and places the scene firmly in a youthful and modern world. The abundance of energy on stage is largely provided by the chorus, who burst onto the stage for the prologue, and continue to provide the atmosphere for this engaging and humorous show. The use of phones, electronics and music brings the production straight into 2017, and is totally refreshing. By bringing the production up to date, director Amy Leach makes compelling comparisons between Shakespeare’s tragedy and the social climate of England today. For example, the continual additions of cellophane-wrapped flowers accrued throughout the production, signifying the wasteful and premature deaths of the characters, is an all-too-familiar sight. Additionally, the brawls led by school children in uniforms, filmed on camera-phones, seems to be a commentary on the existing presence of teenage gang-violence and mentality in the modern world. By doing this, and using the modern-day costumes and scenery, Leach brings to light the timeless themes of love, death and rivalry that are ever-present in contemporary society.
However, what set this production aside from others I have seen is the use of humour which made the production far more accessible to a modern audience as the verbal wit of Shakespeare was effortlessly combined with physical comedy. This was the case with Mercutio, played by Elexi Walker, who was a joy to watch on stage, bringing inevitable laughter each time she entered with a new and funky outfit. The onstage banter between herself and Benvolio (Lawrence Walker) peaked audience interest throughout the first act and it was brilliant to see the humour in Shakespeare portrayed in such a flirty, light-hearted way. Despite this, her intensity when acting opposite Tybalt (Tachia Newall) provided needed depth to her character and strengthened the portrayal of one of the best-loved Shakespeare characters.
On the subject of humour, it was particularly refreshing to see Dan Parr portray the comedy within Romeo’s character that is too frequently overlooked. It is often the case that Romeo is played as a stuffy, serious lovesick teenager. However, Parr picks up on the ridiculous nature of the romance and emphasises the comedy accordingly, embellishing Romeo’s monologues with a love-sick grin and teasing eyes which communicate the sense of joyous juvenility in the character perfectly. The hilarious indication to the ‘star cross’d lovers’ in Romeo’s costume to the Capulet ball emphasised that the lovers are, in fact, just kids, and the ridiculousness of the improbable romance.
This is a highly professional production, contributed to by the impressive scenery, stagecraft and direction. I would highly recommend anyone to catch one of the final performances in the run, ending 25th March.