I have seen Shakespeare's tale of two star cross’d lovers performed many times now and for the most part the productions have been clumsy and ill advised, and the diction has been lazy.
No such problems here with Jacob Murray's deeply passionate and moving adaptation. The story remains the same- a feud between the Montagues and Capulets breaks out into violence. Danger looms when the children of both families, Romeo and Juliet, meet and fall in love. At first their meetings are romantic and in secret. But news of this affair soon reaches Verona. A chain of events then occur which will change the sun baked city forever.
The only departure in this production is that Murray updates the tale to 1950's Italy, complete with Vespas, quiff hairstyles and brightly coloured clothes. Some may think this does not add anything to the piece and at times it does seem like window dressing only. But further into Act One there are some brightly designed scenes which remind the audience of West Side Story, adding a touch of irony to the piece as it has come full circle.
Due to this addition Gugu Mbatha-Raw's Juliet is overtly sexual and almost tempts Romeo. This does seem at odds with the 14 year old innocent who is blinded by love. The actress gives a lovely performance, though, and her scenes with Andrew Garfield's Romeo are incredibly moving and always involving, perfectly capturing the feelings of first love. Garfield is amazing. He has the ability to bring the audience to tears and his athleticism is breathtaking. Maggie McCarthy's Nurse, Andrew Buchan's Mercutio and Paul Herzberg's Lord Capulet are all excellent, each adding something different to the Bard's tragic tale.
Ellen Cairns' epic set highlights religion as a major theme within the piece, featuring statues staring down onto the proceedings. Jason Taylor’s lighting evokes the unforgiving glare of the sun coupled with the violence that will follow. Shobna Gulati’s original choreography compliments the scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet, mixing comedy with romance very well.
Murray has lovingly crafted a rich, deeply affecting, appealingly performed piece. At times the modern nuances jar slightly; but that aside, something quite beautiful remains.