The Royal Shakespeare’s production of Romeo and Juliet is horribly timely.
As London grapples with another spate of fatal stabbings, this 400-year-old play about blade-carrying teenagers who spill blood and shatter lives feels all too relevant.
Director Erica Whyman’s Verona is a contemporary UK city: a place of concrete and skinny jeans. The plays opens with a chorus of young amateur actors, who also get to strut their stuff during the Capulets’ party – a night of pounding music and hedonism.
Like several recent Shakespeare productions, Whyman casts women in male roles and it works. Beth Cordingly plays the Prince of Verona and gets a laugh when she stresses “men” while yelling at the feuding teens: “What, ho! you men, you beasts”
Charlotte Josephine’s Mercutio is dazzling. Romeo’s loquacious mate dances around the stage in a crop top and sparkly bomber jacket. Ishia Bennison’s bawdy, northern Nurse is also hilarious, while Raphael Sowole’s sinister, gravel-voiced Tybalt might have stepped straight out of a mafia movie.
As for the star-crossed lovers, Karen Fishwick’s Scottish Juliet steals the show. Shakespeare’s prose rolls effortlessly off her tongue as she segues from heartbreak to humour, commanding the Barbican’s huge stage. Bally Gill’s Romeo is sweet but a bit dull.
This youthful production isn’t perfect, but there are some brilliant performances.
Romeo and Juliet is at London’s Barbican Theatre until 19 January 2019