Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet
Romeo’s love is a little more ice than fire in a production whose heart lies in its decadent set pieces
Venue: Gate Theatre
Date Reviewed: April 1st, 2015
Whether it is Baz Luhrmann’s 1990s version that sticks in the mind, or Zeffirelli’s from 1968, Romeo and Juliet has been captured in filmed images for decades. Director Wayne Jordan’s cinematic influences are more recent, giving rise to a production that allows extravagant license in performance to be framed by sleek formalism in design. This is the “fire and ice” of Romeo’s love, perhaps, or another way of presenting the play’s series of oppositions and internal contradictions.
Set somewhere between the 1980s and the present, where the Capulets and Montagues run the city of “fair Verona”, there is a sense of barely suppressed violence beneath elegant facades. Inside the Capulet household, substance has been subsumed by surface. Lady Capulet, clad in sheath dresses and stilettos, is sexually involved with her husband’s nephew, Tybalt, while selling off her teenage daughter Juliet into a marriage of convenience with a family associate, Paris. Popping pills and admiring her own cold beauty, Natalie Radmall-Quirke plays her as a woman whose spirit has been crushed, and who will do the same to her daughter.
This staging emphasises that it is the families’ similarities rather than differences that are the source of their enmity. Presented as mirror images of each other in conformity, affluence and power-play, there is nothing between them – except for Romeo and Juliet.
The lovers, played by Lauren Coe and Fra Fee, have youthful innocence, but their exchanges are less engaging than the fast-moving ensembles, with the opening brawl between rival gangs, and the fight between Mercutio (Tadhg Murphy) and Tybalt (Ian Toner). Later scenes that drive the plot suffer from over-declamatory acting, and a flagging pace.
When the young Montague men gate-crash the party at the Capulets’ mansion, a wild spirit is unleashed behind the disguise of animal-head masks and fluorescent costumes. With a soundtrack by Tom Lane that mixes 1980s pop, classical melody and torch songs, this is a deliciously decadent set piece, as characters encounter each other in overlapping tableaux, or break into camp dance moves. These moments, played out against the cool minimalism of Ciarán O’Melia’s set, have the energy and freshness that are Wayne Jordan’s hallmark. While love may be the subject of Shakespeare’s drama, here it is expressed most eloquently through style. Until May 15th