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Romeo and Juliet: a violent and visionary adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic love story

| Theatre | 22/06/2017

Romeo and Juliet © The Globe Theatre

Emma Rice’s final season as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre sees the return of quintessential love story, Romeo and Juliet.  And with typical ambition, Rice has appointed Daniel Kramer – her equivalent at the English National Opera – to deliver as unique a take on the play as Rice herself brought to A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer.  

Some might consider Kramer’s dark, volatile and confrontational production to be an affront to the play’s traditions.  But, as Sandip Kana writes below for What’s On London, this would underplay the important, visionary and fearless contribution Kramer has managed to make to this all-time classic.

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet: a pair of star-crossed lovers, a love doomed from the start and the most tragic of endings.  But Daniel Kramer’s production is unlike any adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic – on stage or film – I have ever seen.

It certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes – especially given the timeless play’s mainstream popularity.  However, Kramer should be praised for his fearless attempt to provide an alternative vision, in this instance an exploration of the darker, abrasive themes of the play which are at times deeply intoxicating.

With its heightened focus on violence, sex and death, it would be easy for the play to feel totally devoid of warmth, empathy and love.  But that’s not the case here.  The cast members show great dexterity in instilling a degree of innocence into the lovers’ first meeting, which they maintain for most of the production despite the emergence and eventual dominance of less pure passions.

Kirsty Bushell is a strong and delightful Juliet; her performance effortlessly blends the character’s awkwardness with humour and charisma.  Edward Hogg gives an equally impressive performance as Romeo, but the decision to cast actress Golda Rosheuvel as Mercutio is the most thought-provoking, highlighting as it does the sexual relationship between her character, Romeo and Tybalt.  As a result, Mercutio’s eventual death provides some of the most moving and emotionally-charged scenes of the entire production.

Other equally brave efforts to challenge the orthodox approach to Shakespeare work less well, with certain attempts to mix modern and classic references seeming erratic and jarring on occasion.  However, they never overpower the play and – perhaps – just about work.

Irrespective of these blips, Kramer succeeds in conjuring new conversations about one of the most famous plays of all time.

That – if nothing else – makes this a fascinating production and a splendid way to usher in the Summer of Love Season.

Romeo and Juliet is running at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre until Sunday 9th July 2017.  For tickets, head here.  All images used above are ©The Globe Theatre.

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