Romeo & Juliet: A Star-Crossed Flop

The Stage’s latest play failed to impress.

Rating: ☆☆☆/5

The programme boldly states: “This isn’t your traditional show. We’ve built a world.” Intriguing, but also a big promise. Queueing outside, I expected to be led into a highly detailed, engaging space, but unfortunately the audience was met by Juliet on an empty set. Had the whole set been developed to the same extent as Friar Laurence’s cell, I could have gotten on board with the idea of a “world.”

This was a student production done on a student budget, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if the production team, very fairly, can’t afford to create a set with any level of detail, then they shouldn’t pretend that they have. The setting up of the street was interesting, and effective, but again not really world creation. The idea of the”‘world” was the very centre of director Oli Savage’s vision, meaning that the whole show was marred by a lack of understanding of limitations, which had some unfortunate knock-on effects.

This was also billed as a “devised” performance, which translated to one very enjoyable dance scene, with drunk Mercutio causing mayhem, but also to several poorly executed fight-dances punctuated by questionable music. Actors ended up doing haphazard hops and awkward swings, bumping into each other frequently. I wish that the production team had focused on this element at rehearsal, as the choreography was good, but the actors weren’t confident enough to implement it. Particularly suspect was the bed scene, which was not helped by saccharine and clichéd music.

The “promenade” aspect of the show didn’t take into account the nature of the space, so again while the idea was there, limitations were not understood. It was, however, different from normal St. Andrews drama, and an enjoyable play on the tradition of standing to watch Shakespeare at the Globe. Even when directly next to actors in conversation, a scene from the other side of the room would render parts unintelligible. At one point, a mobile phone rang over the speakers, entirely ruining Juliet’s scene. It was meant to indicate communication between the Friar and Romeo, but as all the audience members were looking the other way, this was lost and seemed like an error. The recurring motif of the show was that a scene in one half of the space would begin as another in the other half of the space would end. This was entirely unnecessary, and seems to have been done for its own sake. The two elements that could have made this show ultimately held it back.

There were several excellent elements: Seb Bridges and Kezia Johnson as Lord and Lady Capulet were impressive, conveying the authority of the characters convincingly. Ellie Burke as Tybalt was so confident with her character that the “gender-bending” became secondary, and didn’t seem at odds with the text. 

Unfortunately, that was far as that concept went. I got the impression that Caitlin Morris as Romeo didn’t get to grips with her character, as demonstrated in the seminal balcony scene, where her love for Juliet wasn’t expressed entirely convincingly. I think the issue lies in that, whatever the production team may think, Romeo is an overwhelmingly male character. Moreover, the script didn’t seem to have been fully edited to accommodate all the gender-swapping, leading to some confusing moments. More importantly, there were times when Romeo as a woman made no textual sense (see Friar Laurence’s “art thou a man?” speech), and this encapsulates the issues with the show. Mercutio and Benvolio’s homosexual relationship existed only to have two men kiss on stage (hardly controversial in 2017), and added nothing to their overall dynamic.

Oli Savage has to question some of his creative decisions, as they ultimately added little to the text. I think the problem lies in that he had too many ideas, and wanted to execute them all, rather than a few of them very well.

Overall, this was a production with some bold ideas set out in a strong social media campaign, with some lovely graphic design. Yet the threads were never drawn together, and an overreaching, and consequently poorly executed, creative vision meant that the show overpromised but under delivered. However, some strong performances and a refreshing change to traditional staging led to an enjoyable performance.

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