Romeo and Juliet
The Helix, Dublin ***
People change quickly in Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed lovers. Romeo is first seen tormented by his love for Rosaline; just a few scenes later, he will swear he never loved anyone before Juliet.
Juliet will marvel of their bitterly divided families: “My only love sprung from my only hate.” And throughout this ecstatic rush to marriage, separation and sorrow, friends and foes will seem interchangeable.
When even names and words switch their identities, Second Age’s new production wonders, why shouldn’t the actors, too? Dividing upwards of 20 characters between a company of six, director Conor Hanratty can either make a virtue of multiple-role play or treat is as a necessity: is it a justified innovation or a cost-cutting measure? Although the technical challenge of quick changes and the brisk, two hours and 40 minutes traffic of the stage are handled with remarkably little fray, the production retreats from the zestier possibilities. We never see the actors transform, for instance, which feels faintly apologetic, as though a show intended for school audiences can only push so far.
What it offers instead is a classic stateliness: a limpid telling of the story on a set, designed by Maree Kearns, that emulates the clean arches of Verona’s amphitheatre. If that seems staid, it may be because every generation makes its own Romeo and Juliet, from West Side Story to Baz Luhrmann, as though nobody ever loved before we did.
With a modestly contemporary look, but an old-fashioned sensibility, this version represents a clash between innocence and experience. Jack Hickey, as Romeo, strikes the right balance, with a pleasing combination of boyish abandon and wisecracking moodiness, but Megan Riordan has a tougher job, playing both Juliet and her violent cousin, Tybalt. “Here comes my man,” she says believably of Romeo, but then it is as Tybalt – and his dagger is drawn. It’s a sly idea to suggest the lovers could be similar combatants, and there’s refreshing mettle in the way Riordan’s Juliet takes command of a dumbstruck Romeo (“You kiss by the book”), but that worldliness doesn’t find support in an otherwise faithful reading.
Elsewhere, Karl Quinn’s ribaldry as Romeo’s pal Mercutio may seem excessive, reducing his double entendres to single meanings, but allied with Amy Conroy – remarkably persuasive and unshowy as both Benvolio and Juliet’s earthy Nurse – they represent the coarseness, sober counsel and cynicism that are all, in their own ways, enemies of euphoria.
This production’s gentle sense of adventure contains a taste of that reckless passion, yet it errs on the side of the killjoys. The more people change, perhaps, the more they stay the same.
Until February 8th