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Romeo and Juliet (tour - Bracknell, Wilde Theatre)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
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I wish that it was harder to do Shakespeare badly. Or that there was some sort of law that prevented productions like Icarus Theatre Collective's horrendous attempt at Romeo and Juliet ever getting in front of an audience – particularly when there is such an urgent need to engage and inspire, to keep the art form alive through the next generation and beyond. Shakespeare often attracts families, students and young people who perhaps would normally avoid theatre, and this production fails them. It is for that reason that I left the Wilde Theatre so furious with this company.

Everything about this production is irritating and tedious; it is incompetently performed and badly staged. Max Lewendel directs as if he hasn't even read the play, and it is clear that he certainly doesn't understand the nuances of the world's greatest love story.

The actors – who show only brief flourishes of talent – trip across the stage, struggle with fight choreography, mumble lines and enact any moments of playfulness with farcically wooden awkwardness. They appear bored, and therefore so are we.

The interpretation of all the supporting characters is bizarre and simply wrong. Mercutio seems to be portrayed as an immature repressed homosexual, taking every opportunity to stroke Romeo's hair or face, but displaying the emotional depth of a puddle. I don't really blame David McLaughlin for this; his posture and physicality are strong, and he manages the sword fights better than the rest (not much of a compliment of course), so the blame points to Lewendel.

The nurse is played as a Madame Thernadier caricature - a drunk and vile matron who Gemma Barrett plays purely for laughs, which rarely come from a stony-faced audience. Again she shows moments of colour, and one wonders why she chooses to overplay everything. At moments it seems that the play is more about her than Romeo or Juliet.

The lucky couple themselves (Kaiden Dubois and Nicole Anderson) are dire - soliloquies are utterly massacred by both of them in equal measure. One can barely hear a word, and as for understanding the characters and their motivations, there is little or no chance for the poor audience.

On the plus side, Dubois is a very attractive chap, albeit one who performs completely flaccidly. If I had to pick one good thing about the show, it'd be his good looks. To be fair to Anderson, she is also very pretty, and plays the teenage element of Juliet convincingly.

The entire cast is very young, with the exception of the absolutely bizarre presence of Zachary Holton as Lord Capulet, who actually finishes Act Three, Scene One brilliantly, though feels like the schoolteacher of a group of drama students in his size and age, incredibly odd when compared to his wife and every other member of the cast.

Another odd move by Lewendel is in the female casting of Tybalt, played with confusion and zero charisma by Gabrielle Dempsey. The only weaker member of the cast was Christopher Smart who took Benvolio. He was strangely endearing, but delivers an atrocious performance.

Icarus has the chance here to engage with an important audience – and have catastrophically messed it up. And – please! – don't even get me started on the wobbly set and elevator music.


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