When creating a modern version of a well loved classic such as Romeo and Juliet, theatre companies can easily show themselves up by trying too hard to be “down with the kids”. Luckily Headlong’s production of the tragic love story escapes this pitfall and wittily portrays the lives of teenagers without ever being patronising.
Helen Goddard’s innovative set cleverly shows the audience how quickly the events of the play unfurl and the use of a projected digital clock acts as a reminder of the tragic events to come. At times it does feel as though the company had pulled out a highlighter pen and scribbled on the script “This is a key moment!” through the use of rewinding snippets of action. Overall though, rather than becoming too obvious a device, it clearly demonstrates to the audience how the tiniest of details can change a person’s life.
But what of the star-crossed lovers themselves? Catrin Stewart’s naive and innocent Juliet complements Daniel Boyd’s Romeo; their first kiss really does have the hesitancy and awkwardness of teenage first love. These characterisations develop brilliantly throughout the first act, culminating in a tear-streaked love scene beautifully played out to a slow rendition of “I don’t like Mondays”. Perhaps bizarrely, this does work.
The show stealers, however, turn out to be in supporting roles – the Nurse Bridgid Zengeni, Mercutio Tom Mothersdale and Danny Kirrane’s hilarious portrayal of Benvolio. Normally this is not a character demanding much attention to but Kirrane yanks him out of the background and smacks the audience round the face with a cheeky grin and a rude gesture. Kirrane, Mothersdale and Boyd’s chemistry is flawless and their banter seamless.
Their absence is felt in the second act, highlighting that Romeo and Juliet are fairly over dramatic-teenagers in love. The ever-present clock reminds us that they have only known each other for five days and so it comes over as slightly implausible for them to be so head over heels in love, especially when compared with the Capulets’ (Caroline Faber and Keith Bartlett) mature and complex relationship.
With surprising performances and a visually intriguing set, this production of Romeo and Juliet captures the spirit of youth without becoming an episode of Skins.