The most famous love story of all time is given a sharp new look by the multi-award-winning English Touring Theatre, which this time puts its heavyweight casting to one side to showcase some bright young Shakespearean talent.
In this new reading, co-edited by the company's artistic director Stephen Unwin and company stalwart Michael Cronin, who plays Friar Laurence, Shakespeare's fast-paced introduction to his characters and simple development in broad strokes is taken to its ultimate conclusion.
The play has been substantially cut - an ETT trademark which has upset some purists - but this has introduced an exciting pace to the unfolding of the story. Furthermore, it creates an even greater contrast with the lyricism of the language between the star-crossed lovers and the glorious poetry of their love-making - which is all retained and emphasised in sharp relief.
There is nothing on stage to distract from this, a simple raised sloping platform devoid of props with a gold framed balcony high above it the only set, Malcolm Rippeth's lighting and Olly Fox's original music setting the mood. Unwin has placed his production in the 1940s, Mark Bouman's costume design offering a touch of Hollywood glamour.
The break-neck pace of the opening scenes as the rival Capulets and Montagues posture and fight for the upper hand is almost too machine-gun in feel - definitely more West Side Story than the Bard. But with the awakening of love between our heroes (Adam Croasdell and Laura Rees) amid stolen yet sexually-charged glances across the dance-floor, the action settles down and, after the interval particularly, is beautifully judged.
Croasdell cuts an heroic figure as the idealistic romantic with Rees a suitably virginal Juliet, which makes her realisation that the cruel real world offers few concessions to idealism all the more tragic. Their balcony scenes are richly romantic and their death scene deeply moving.
Anna Francolini is a cold and remote Lady Capulet until the apparent loss of her daughter forces her to reveal pent-up feelings, while nurse Marjorie Yates wears her heart firmly on her sleeve as she tries to smooth the couple's path to love.
Yates switches mood to provide some of the lighter moments alongside the larger-than-life O T Fagbenle as Mercutio and Thomas Nelstrop as the illiterate Peter.
This is a Romeo and Juliet for all ages - with ETT's reputation proving the point, at the Norwich first night I saw everyone in the audience, from pre-teens to pensioners, was captivated.
- John Lawson (reviewed at Norwich Theatre Royal)