There was a curious inevitability about Pilot Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet, even before we learn in the prologue that these star cross’d lovers will take their life. Chloe Lamford’s visually stunning set is covered in an arresting array of flowers. Coupled with spare staging, simple lines and flickering candles, it was clear from the start that this stage would end up a tomb.
A bold concept for directors Marcus Romer and Katie Posner to stake their production on, but ultimately a gamble worth taking. What could easily have become gimmicky, mawkish, distracting, became a neat framing device, never allowing the audience to forget that this would end in tragedy. Mary Rose’s Lady Capulet was a grieving mother before she spoke a line, putting the deaths in universal human terms: we were never allowed to forget that the two hours traffic of the stage would culminate in the end of this lady’s child.
Posner and Romer were lucky in Rachel Spicer’s fantastic, touchingly young Juliet; she was strong enough to wrench real grief from the well-worn story. Her capricious Juliet flitted between emotions but the sheer joy emanating from her when she found Oliver Wilson’s tender Romeo was beautifully bittersweet. Wilson himself had his moments, and did a convincing line in love-lorn, but was a little contrived in his grief, a little overwrought, perhaps. Chris Landon’s impulsive Mercutio, always ready with an innuendo and a cackle, played nicely off Bryn Holding’s earnest, loyal Benvolio, and Landon demonstrated impressive versatility in his prissy Paris, too, giving him an air of never having been denied anything. Louisa Eyo, who played both Nurse and Duke, switched from lewd to stern, from servant to prince with ease, and was impressive in both roles. Her impassive Duke was a commanding presence, and her loving, laughing Nurse was knowing without stooping to the levels of courseness practised by the young men.
Sandy Nuttgens’s inciental music was particularly striking, offering sound effects and emotive background without overshadowing the sounds on stage. An impressively varied score, and one that underlined the drama at every turn.
Dramaturg Juliet Forster and the cast have obviously had fun with the text, wringing every possible innuendo out of it, and adding some pelvic thrusts where none are strictly necessary for good measure. Romer and Posner have done a great job with the verse, coaxing admirably clear speaking from the whole cast, and making the words sound new. This is not reverent Shakespeare, although there is clearly affection for the language, but Shakespeare played to be understood and enjoyed, even at its saddest. The audience of school children clearly enjoyed the baser humour, and I left with a sense of youth and wit and fun needlessly wasted. Some judicious cuts kept the play near enough to two hours traffic, as opposed to the self-indulgent three that seems the norm, and kept the story zipping along to its sorry conclusion.
Romeo and Juliet is running at the Unicorn Theatre until the 12th February. Otherwise catch it on tour, see the website here: www.youkissbythebook.com