The Royal Shakespeare Company brought a sharp version of the tragic tale of teenage passion and desire to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.
Productions of the play either stay true to high-class, feuding families or, lazily, drop the play into a working class setting – fishing for descriptions of ‘hardness’ and ‘grittiness’. Here, the abstraction into a sparse but imposing setting allows violence and heartbreak the space it should always be given.
While director Erica Whyman looked to bring freshness and youth to the fore, the more seasoned actors in their solidity were vital to the success of the production. Andrew French excellently portrayed a wise but fraught Friar Laurence like a father figure giving counsel to his wayward children whom he is heartbroken to see drifting away from him and towards a dangerous path.
But it is of course the relationship between the two eponymous characters that captivates the audience; the excellent casting of Bally Gill as Romeo and Karen Fishwick as Juliet makes sure that frenetic teenage emotions are stirred up within those in the crowd.
Gill displays the brittle cockiness of a young man in love but surrounded by peers ready to tease and prod. Fishwick’s sighs and grunts punctuate her Juliet’s weariness in dealing with adults when at her most juvenile, while her broken yelps show the passion and fragility that are constantly being balanced within the character. Both seem most in touch with their characters during their sweeter, more tender moments.
The mixing up of genders in casting can explore and highlight Shakespeare’s frequent forays into the subjects of sex and sexuality. Where this falls down, is Charlotte Josephine’s Mercutio. There is a serious lack of insight into the psyche of an aggressive, libidinous young man. Instead, this is a basic, reductive impression of one. Ceaseless hip thrusting and consistently smirking and laughing at her own jokes more than the audience ensure the character seems like no loss. Raphael Sowole’s assured Tybalt was infinitely more likable.
Knowing that the production was made with the intent of being more youthful and fresh, it was a relief that there was no pandering to a demographic of imagined, focus-grouped young people. Thankfully, other than the odd slack-jaw or contorted brow, there were few cartoonish imitations of young people and youthfulness.
The interaction between generations was the most fascinating component of the play. Juliet and her controlling father, Romeo and the troubled Friar Laurence; both relationships seemed to be explored a little deeper than in other productions.
However, as these scenes were given more time to breathe, it seemed others were slightly rushed. Nurse’s discovering of the drugged Juliet and Paris’ confronting of Romeo both have the potential to be gut-punching scenes, but both are dealt with fairly swiftly with the end of the play in sight.
The production has certainly achieved the aim of being more youthful – Gill’s boyish bravado and Fishwick’s likeable vacillations see to that. But this exploration of the other relationships within the play is what is really interesting and original.
review by Luke Hawkins
Romeo and Juliet is on at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal until Saturday 23rd March.