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Romeo and Juliet (Bury St Edmunds, Theatre Royal)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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 It would be nice to be able to say that Lynn Whitehead's production of Romeo and Juliet is a worthy successor to the other Shakespeare ones previously staged at this exquisite Georgian theatre. Alas, it's not.

Becca Gibbs' set looks half-finished (there's a bunch of black tabs to stage left which is highly distracting) and Heidi McEvoy-Swift's costumes may suggest a type of peasant community anywhere between Sicily and the Balkans struggling into the 20th century from the 19th, but they're not easy on the eye.

None of which would really matter unduly if the performances measured up to the text. It does become worrying when the smaller parts seem to be better played than more principal ones; some odd doubling of roles doesn't help. Moray Treadwell, who makes patriarch Capulet into a credible, if never particularly likeable, human-being is one example.

Rhys King's Paris is an interesting study of a prissy, precise young man, perhaps overly conscious of his status but prepared quite genuinely to fall in love with Juliet, once the idea has been planted. He's much less successful as Benvolio. Ali Watts makes the Prince a sharp-voiced autocrat with real authority; his Mercutio doesn't work nearly as well.

This is a young man's play which is basically about teenagers teetering on the brink of adulthood and there are a quantity of knockabout high spirits on display. Craig Vye's Romeo comes closest to respecting the text as well as the character; you can believe in his sudden maturing once the calf-love for Rosaline has been dissolved into a deeper passion for Juliet and that this new-found intensity might well lead to tragedy.

Hannah Edwards as Juliet is done no visual favours by her costume, which makes her appear lumpish as well as childish, but she handles the traumatic moment when she realises that her parents' protective cocoon is really a cage very well. Friar Laurence, confessor and confidant to both young people, is Richard Pryal; he also plays their nemesis, the dangerously volatile Tybalt.

As comfortable bodies go, Beccy Wright's Nurse is cast in the traditional mode, too much so for her to be credible as Friar John. Sian Polhill-Thomas is Lady Capulet, arguably once a trophy bride for her husband, while David Morley Hale takes on old Montague, the Capulet's main servants (including the Nurse's much put-upon Peter) and the straightened apothecary of the last act. There's incidental music by Roger Wilson, but it seems to be tentative, almost something of an addition rather than integral.


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