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Romeo and Juliet – Old Red Lion Theatre, London

Writer: William Shakespeare

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

[rating:4]

grassroots_shakespeareThis is a production of Shakespeare’s classic love tragedy stripped down to its bare essentials. Played in the confined studio space of the Old Red Lion Theatre against black walls and with a black floor set dressing is a couple of large black boxes and a few pieces of trellis. The costuming is modern but unelaborate. There are no complicated stage effects, no fake blood and the daggers are clearly stage props that could do little harm. But none of this matters for this play is about telling a story, as the prologue and epilogue remind us, and this the cast do to great effect. The dialogue is clear and the characters are well portrayed and differentiated. In such a small theatre space the cast are never far away from the audience and every expression is clearly visible. This requires acting of the highest degree of commitment which this young cast delivered …. we could see that Juliet’s tears were real.

Grassroots Shakespeare make much of their adherence to original practices particularly the lack of the director and gender blind casting. The absence of a director was not noticeable, the staging was effective and the cast made the best use of the limited space they had. The scenes flowed effortlessly into each other and the way the bedroom morphs into the mausoleum at the end of the play is particularly good. The gender blind casting is only evident in two characters; Lucas Livesey’s male Lady Capulet is a believable older woman and Alex Bedeward gives a delightful, playful portrayal as a female Benvolio. While the gender blind casting works well the age blind casting does not. This play is about the conflict between the generations and it loses some of its impact when the parents and their children are clearly played by actors in the same age group.

In this play the rôles of the Nurse and Friar Laurence are among the most interesting giving the actors plenty of interpretive scope ; Nicola Fox exploited the humour and distress of the Nurse to although again would have been more effective had she been played as rather older. James Swanton gave us a lanky, ungainly Friar exploiting his expressive facial muscles to excellent effect: his distress at the end of the play at the rôle that he had played in bringing about the tragic outcome was heart-rending.

Once again Grassroots Shakespeare have demonstrated their ability to produce intelligent, unadorned and accessible Shakespeare.

Runs until 27th July

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