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Review Round-up: Globe's Young Hearts in R&J

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The new 'Young Hearts' season at Shakespeare's Globe kicked off last week (30 April, previews from 23 April), with newcomers Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun (pictured) leading a suitably youthful cast in Dominic Dromgoole's production of Romeo and Juliet.

The Young Hearts season was described by Dromgoole recently as “a way of celebrating the youth and excitement of this young theatre, which is only 12 years old … the Shakespeare plays chosen all showcase different takes on the drama and excitement of young love” (See News, 12 Feb 2009). Forthcoming productions in the season include Thea Sharrock's As You Like It and Matthew Dunster's Troilus and Cressida.

The cast of Romeo and Juliet, which runs in rep until 23 August, also features Ukweli Roach (Tybalt), Jack Fathing (Benvolio) and acclaimed New Zealand actor Rawiri Paratene (Whale Rider) as Friar Laurence. Design is by Simon Daw, with music by Nigel Hess.

Critical reaction was generally very positive, with most appreciating the “freshness” and “excitement” provided by the relatively inexperienced cast. There were a few comments regarding some “uncomfortable” verse-speaking (though others were quick to praise this aspect of the production), and a primary gripe seemed to be a lack of chemistry between Kendrick and Edun. But there was strong praise for the young lovers in other departments – notably Kendrick's “ irresistible childlike innocence” and Edun's “fresh, cheeky” charm. And special mentions were made regarding Penny Layden's nurse, as well as the “thrilling” and "brutal" choreography of the fight scenes.

  • Maxwell Cooter on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) - “Dominic Dromgoole’s production doesn’t always come off (why, for example, does Juliet go to bed in the middle of the Capulet living room?) but there’s plenty here to stir the soul. It captures the excitement of young love and the tragic waste of premature death, as well as providing a sense of the desperate urgency with which the relationship unfolds … In Adetomiwa Edun, the Globe has unearthed a fine Romeo … Ellie Kendrick’s Juliet certainly has youth on her side even if she's demonstrably uncomfortable with the verse … This is a strong start to the season. If we’re truly in for a long and hot summer, on this evidence the Globe could well be the place to be.”
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) - “Dominic Dromgoole's brisk, unfussy production, which opens the new season at the Globe, kept me hooked almost throughout … Dromgoole is blessed with a smashing pair of young lovers. Adetomiwa Edun's Romeo is fresh, cheeky, light on his feet and full of the ebullience of young love … However, the production's secret weapon is Ellie Kendrick as Juliet … For once, you genuinely believe that Juliet is still shy of her 14th birthday, and the way she skips round the stage and leaps into the arms of her nurse (excellent Penny Layden) when she finally learns that Romeo will marry her has an irresistible childlike innocence and joy.”
  • Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (three stars) - “It’s both appropriate and admirable then that Dominic Dromgoole, directing, casts some new young faces: several of the troubled teenagers on the streets of Verona are played by actors only just out of drama school … Both Edun and Kendrick have a lightness and sweet seriousness about them that only accompanies youth …  All this is to the good. But it also brings a sizeable problem. While both deliver the verse well, neither can quite reach the lyrical heights they need. More importantly, they can’t convey the tragic weight of their fate. Their reactions to terrible news (Romeo’s banishment, Juliet’s apparent death) are underwhelming. They don’t make you weep for them.”
  • Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (three stars) - “It's got some good things going for it: clever use of music, a distinctly bustling Verona, and a Benvolio (Jack Farthing) and Mercutio (Philip Cumbus) whose puppyish high jinks hide more fragile uncertainties. Penny Layden's nurse is real flesh and blood, too, not the bawdy caricature of tradition. But for all its initial urgency, and a beautifully staged ball scene where the young lovers first catch each other's eye, this evening, like a great many love affairs, simply peters out … The lovers greet each other's deaths with the slightly disappointed air of teenagers who have just heard they haven't done quite as well as expected in their chemistry A-levels. It is a very different kind of chemistry that is lacking here.”
  • Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard (three stars) - “The staging of this Romeo and Juliet is straightforward, the verse speaking clear. And though Adetomiwa Edun and Ellie Kendrick never quite reach the required extremes of passion and despair, they take ownership of the lead roles and root the play in a teenage milieu … Young casting is a double-edged sword. What you gain in freshness you lose in experience … The poetry comes over strong in this Romeo and Juliet, and the sense of young adults caught up in feelings and feuds they don’t really understand. What’s missing, finally, is the passion. The lovers are believable and authentic: their love, sadly, isn’t quite.”  

- by Theo Bosanquet


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