4 March 2008 WOS Rating: In some ways Northern Broadsides’ , produced in partnership with the New Vic, is a throwback to the company’s early years: the clog dancing’s back (rather too frantic fun at the Capulets’ party), as is the beating of oil drums at moments of confrontation, though the brief underscoring of the street brawls is as nothing compared to the clash of armies in former days. Broadsides’ hugely effective production style has always been a potential subject for parody; at times now it teeters towards self-parody. Romeo and Juliet
On the other hand, the casting policy is innovative, with little sign of the usual ensemble of “regulars”. Of 16 actors, ten are first-timers: even the normally ubiquitous
Conrad Nelson is restricted to composing and preparing the music, essentially three set-pieces including a delightful choral celebration of Juliet’s “marriage” to Paris, charmingly scored for string band and hand-bells.
Though he over-runs the “two hour’s traffic” by some 20 minutes’ stage time,
Barrie Rutter’s production is briskly narrative, the Vic’s theatre-in-the-round facilitating constantly overlapping exits and entrances. Mostly it’s a straightforward conventional view of the drama, with Lis Evans’ contemporary costumes successfully representing the generation gap. Her bare staging is elegant enough, with its suggestion of marquetry, and, with the aid of Daniella Beattie’s lighting, effectively creates the Capulets’ tomb out of nothing.
The performances of the older generation are all serviceable, but few are memorable, though Rutter himself summons up a fine fury as Capulet faced with a disobedient daughter and
Fine Time Fontayne gives Friar Laurence a kindly authority. Chris Nayak’s unstrained Benvolio always convinces, and the only unconventional characterisation comes in Peter Toon’s shaven-headed bruiser of a Mercutio, the first I’ve seen to get more out of the late-night search for Romeo (who, of course, is beneath Juliet’s balcony) than out of Queen Mab, the mocking of the Nurse or the final duel.
Rutter’s masterstroke, however, comes with the casting of the two principals:
Benedict Fogarty in his professional debut, and Sarah Ridgeway, who apparently has only film, television and radio on her CV. Both are immensely appealing, full of the gauche grace of youth. Fogarty, racing hither and yon in exuberance or panic, summons up surprising power at odds with the amiably goofy persona he projects in the early stages. Ridgeway is even more expressive, a contented schoolgirl driven into outbursts of fury and agony: her vocal resources are challenged by some of Juliet’s speeches, but hers is a performance of unusual truthfulness.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the New Vic Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent)
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