Romeo and Juliet take to the street

Julet awakes to find Romeo dead

For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo

Romeo and Juliet

Malvern Theatre

****

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life!

ROMEO and Juliet must be one of the most studied Shakespeare texts for teenagers in schools in our nation, but this production by the Custom/Practice and Newbury Corn Exchange gives a very new experience of the famous play.

While Shakespeare's text is considerably cropped and excerpted in this production, the company keep all the best bits, the famous lines, and add a dynamic element of street dance that makes the show come alive for a contemporary audience in a thoroughly fresh and vigorous way.

A number of elements in the play naturally lend themselves to dance. The street fighting scenes are brilliantly portrayed in this way. The Capulet ball is likewise perfectly suited to a fresh style of dance interpretation.

One of the most expressive moments was in Act Three Scene 5 when the lovers enjoy their wedding night and struggle to part in the morning.

The scene was introduced by a beautiful dance by the two that was thoroughly tasteful but indicative of their passion and love before they settled into the sheets with an romeo and julietinfectious giggle, only then to introduce Shakespeare's dialogue as they debate whether indeed morning is breaking.

The whole approach and interpretation was refreshing, youthful and energetic and gave the historic classic a new feel.

This interpretation was particularly effective in the first half. The second half of the play offered fewer opportunities to introduce dances, though the style of expression of the cast throughout was full of dance-type gesture.

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

The consequence was that the second half relied more heavily on Shakespeare and his amazing language. However the effect of cutting out quite a lot of text meant that the final scene at the tomb lacked some of the normal intensity. The Friar's confession and explication seemed rather wordy and long!

The play was designed with an abstract, geometrical set by Amanda Mascarenhas that served well and effectively, providing different levels for scenes such as the famous balcony scene and Romeo clambering over garden walls. At the centre was a rather coffin-shaped box that served as a banqueting table and various other devices before the final tragic scene in the tomb.

Nic Farman’ s Lighting was very atmospheric and varied in colour, angle and intensity that matched the style of the show: the shift of lighting to introduce slow motion moments in the dance was very poignant.

The necessary music to accompany the dance, composed by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, was extended to provide something of a filmic atmosphere in many scenes: this in turn meant that there were moments of very telling silence or stillness interrupted by the ticking of a clock or the tweeting of birdsong.

The dress was largely modern though elements of period were suggested in Mabyn Aita’s designs: the modern atmosphere was complemented by a very relaxed and informal opening with the cast casually chatting together on the stage before the show opened, looking out over the audience, playing street games etc. Then suddenly we were thrust into the atmosphere of street dance club as the lights and the crashing music burst into life.

The multi-ethnic cast did a tremendous job of creating a show that should make Shakespeare appealing to all ages. If Nathanael Campbell's Benvolio's hand gestures at times seemed a bit excessive, we quickly accepted the style of the show and the youthful exuberance of expression. Arun Blair-Mangat and Remmie Milner provided an enchanting lead couple with skilful dance and good diction. David North's very randy Mercutio came across as rather angry. Michelle Cornelius as the Nurse was outstanding and achieved a wonderful range of humour, pathos and dramatic life.

This show is towards the end of its current run. It is youthful, exuberant, original and modern in the best sense. Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy’s choreography generally was of a very high standard and was reflected in the excellence of the dancing. It will bring Shakespeare alive to a new generation and it would be great to see growing numbers of youth witnessing it this week. Directed by Rae McKen, Romeo and Juliet runs to 01-11-14

Timothy Crow

28-10-14 

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