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Romeo and Juliet (New Diorama Theatre)

The Faction return to the New Diorama Theatre with their take on Shakespeare's tragedy

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The cast of Romeo and Juliet
© Richard Davenport

This modern dress, pared down, doubled up nine handed version of Shakespeare's teenage tragedy is lively and fast paced, especially in the early scenes. The text is barely cut, though, and the energy does flag at times during the three hours and ten minute marathon.

There is notable work from Clare Latham as Juliet. She's an accomplished verse speaker and naturalistic actor who whispers her way through the most intimate balcony scene I've ever seen, only occasionally dropping her voice so low that she's inaudible. She handles the hysterical weeping after the banishment of Romeo movingly too. Her Romeo is competently played by Christopher York who makes the youthful passion and impetuousness convincing. The accent-deaf casting feels a bit odd, however, with York's Romeo a Geordie and Juliet using what one assumes is Latham's native American accent.

Kate Sawyer, whose contralto acting and heavy manner sometimes grates in noble roles (she's a Faction regular) is an excellent nurse. Be-ringed, coarse, munching marshmallows and speaking estuary she is also movingly weepy when the role requires it. It's a very sympathetic and well-judged portrayal.

Almost all the cast is on stage most of the time and the action unfolds on and around three rostra-style flat beds – a neat bit of design which works well in the constrained studio space of the New Diorama. It is a pity though that the upstage cast are involved in a lot of action which distracts from what is meant to be happening.

We really don't need, for example. to see the nurse repeatedly struggling to coil an extension lead which turns out to be a rope ladder – who would have thought it? – during the murder of Mercutio. And the long slow motion sequence in which Lord and Lady Capulet move round a cigarette is off-puttingly puzzling. But there's a fine moment as Tybalt is killed when the anguish of the women affected is very clearly laid out as a human backdrop to the action.

Lighting designer Chris Withers has had a lot of fun with this show which is imaginatively and atmospherically lit especially during the vault scene at the end which makes effective use of candles and tiny spots. Less successful is Max Pappenheim's sound which rumbles and tinkles throughout at a low level under the dialogue. At one point I mistook it for a mobile phone.

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