The RSC’s five year seasonal residency at the Roundhouse in Camden opened this week with Rupert Goold’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Set on a thrust stage, similar to the one at Stratford, the Roundhouse affords an intimacy so desperately needed with this play; love and loss, revenge and regret are dishes best served up close.
A wonderfully light first half hour begins with a great piece of theatrical trickery from Goold. The prologue, usually conducted with a weighty, doom-laden gravitas is conducted as an audio guide with Romeo (Sam Troughton) looking around some imagined catacomb. First in Italian then in English, its novel delivery brushes aside the play’s gloomy end and allows camera-wielding Romeo to conduct his reverie to Rosalind in peace. It is not long, however, before the ensemble up the ante at the Capulet’s masked ball. Conjuring a ferociously charged, tribal melee, replete with dancing and incessant drumming (aided by the skilful and omnipresent live orchestra), the ensemble creates a rising pitch of sexual energy so potent it seems that Romeo and Juliet’s (Mariah Gale) meeting occurs not by chance but by the auspices of some voodoo power.
This is a quite extraordinary production pinned together by two titanic performances from the leads. Troughton’s captivating Romeo is a collage of every wannabe lover, geek and superhero, whilst Mariah Gales’s Juliet is a tomboyish hottie who seemingly wears the trousers as well as undoing them. Her line "You kiss by the book" is less a vow and more a sultry invitation. In the first half both performances are so convincingly young, vibrant and unchaste that one begins to be consumed by the lovers whilst simultaneously chiding them for their foolishness. Come the second half, each is a shadow of their former selves. Romeo proves himself a fighter and not a lover, as his passion for revenge outruns his desire for love, and Juliet, facing a forced marriage and a banished husband sheds her youthfulness forever. There are fine performances too from Mercutio ([Jonjo O’Neil]) whose hilariously gross interpretation of a woman’s anatomy is without question the funniest moment of this three hour play. Richard Katz is also superb as Lord Capulet, his charming insincerity blending with a vicious streak that decimates Juliet as she tries to refuse her arranged marriage.
Tom Scutts’ design is sparse and functional, making good use of both fire (another nod to the tribal interpretation of love that prevails in this production) and lighting effects. Scutts’ particular coup however, is derived from his use of multi period costumes. At the end of the play, the Capulets and the Montagues, surrounded by police officer’s, descend in modern, generic attire, and as they look on the bodies of their children, one is reminded of countless television appeals concerning lost sons and daughters.
It would be worth travelling to the moon to see this production, so the fact that it is in Camden should be a welcome convenience. So often cited as "the greatest love story ever told" this exquisitely crafted production ensures it is the greatest love story ever retold.
- Ed Clark
Please Note: Please note: This FOUR-STAR review is from the production's run at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon in March 2010.
This year’s staging of Romeo and Juliet, care of ever-ascendant director Rupert Goold, is full of violent delights and is the product of great intellectual vigour and heterogenic layering, as evidenced by the pluralism of costume and allegiances.
For much of the production, Romeo and Juliet are the only characters in the pared-down simplicity of contemporary dress, signalling a pair of lovers out of time with their peers and their communities. Most of the other characters’ costumes are more elaborately conceived: biker boots with their Elizabethan buskins, priestly cowls and farthingales.
This cross-referencing also extends to the musical score. The play opens with Gregorian plainsong and segues into a robust earthy foot-stomping dance of great sexual energy with the masked ball. Gruffudd Glyn sings a moving falsetto account of Juliet’s death, imparting the information in an other-worldly, almost ghostly form, supremely appropriate for referencing her (only apparent) death. Indeed, to go back to costuming for a moment: in death, as in marriage, Juliet is restored to her father’s jurisdiction and wears a white wedding dress complete with Spanish fan-shaped ruff.
Mariah Gale’s Juliet is edgy and unnerving; she brings a unique quality to this role. We fully believe Juliet’s wilfulness and her violent resistance to being in the gift of her father. Swinging a torch when she first appears in anarchic wide circles to signify her emotional volatility, she has great intensity.
Sam Troughton as Romeo is perhaps less successfully cast. He lacks the vigour and vulnerability of a teenager. And thus it’s hard to believe in the central relationship as an erotically charged depiction of first and illicit love. When Romeo and Juliet kiss they kiss with the air of people long practised in kissing, even familiar with kissing each other.
Is this quibble significant enough to destabilise the production? In the end, I don’t think so. Elsewhere, there’s some magnificent acting: Jonjo O'Neill as Mercutio is superb, as mercurial as his name implies and full of braggadocio, joie de vivre and verve; Joseph Arkley’s Tybalt an excellent counterpart, full of random rage; Noma Dumezweni is a splendid Nurse, darkly unpredictable; and Christine Entwistle as Lady Capulet also gives an interestingly complex performance.
Tom Scutt’s set makes great use of projected imagery and, throughout, fire burns at the heart of the production: the stage full of violent uprisings, lit flames of passion, torches of desire, smoking geysers and vast cauldrons of fire, all flawlessly crafted and raising the heat even more.
- Claire Steele