Venue: Contact Theatre
Where: Manchester

Night Light Theatre’s new production of Romeo and Juliet is intended for young people but, surprisingly, does not condescend its target audience. Rather than dumb down the material, the cast perform the abridged text with clarity and passion. The success of the production is attributable to director Rich Rusk offering a version of Verona that is relevant to the youngsters.
 
The atmosphere, aided greatly by Matt O’Leary’s moody lighting and Dom Coyote’s plainsong music, is that of a spooky horror film. This is a world in which adults are grotesque creatures, duels take place not with swords but repulsor rays in the style of a computer game and the greatest fear is not death but parental disapproval or being ostracised. Rusk has abridged the text with surgical skill but moves the pace along imaginatively. Friar Laurence’s plot is delivered as a voice over as the events unfold onstage.
 
Max Humphries’ puppets are marvellous creations reflecting the belief of youngsters that adults are from another world but also being an accurate indication of the nature of the character they portray. It is appropriate that the puppets of Juliet’s icy mother and father should be made of wood and metal. The audience may be familiar with the visual appearance of some of the characters as Friar Laurence looks like something out of The Dark Crystal and  the Nurse  is a delightful fluttering Yoda.
 
The discrepancies in the play are largely a matter of taste. The move towards mental rather than physical violence means that aggressive characters like Mercutio and Tybalt are sidelined. As the play is intended for people who are likely to be unfamiliar with the plot greater effort could have been made at an early stage to establish the enmity between the Montagues and Capulets.  
 
Night Light Theatre should be proud that they have shown audiences new to the Bard that Shakespeare is to be enjoyed rather than endured.
 
- Dave Cunningham