Theatre Review: A Contemporary Curveball on Shakespeare’s Classic: Romeo and Juliet By Libby Stephens
Brilliantly transported into William Shakespeare’s Verona, but where the infamous star-crossed lovers are of the same sex: Romeo and Julius.
George Caple and Elliott Kingsley in Romeo and Juliet, photo by Gary Calton.
Romeo and Juliet concludes the first season from the Everyman’s new repertory company as the fifth production in the season and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Director, Nick Bagnall, celebrates the traditional script and Shakespearian language (with just a few alterations and added expletives to enhance certain comedy aspects). Yet, you don’t need to be fluent in understanding Shakespeare’s work to appreciate the narrative, as the performers and Bagnall bring the plot to life in an easily conveyed manner. But, with a fantastic twist, as Juliet in this production is Julius!
As a student at Liverpool John Moores University, found it really refreshing to see a version of Romeo and Juliet which is adapted to modern society, generating gender reversals through Julius (instead of Juliet) and with the roles of Paris (Zelina Rebeiro), Benvolio (Isobel Balchin) and Balthasar (Alice Corrigan) being played by women. The visualisation of a doomed, homosexual love, injected a completely revolutional twist on the classic, that brings the text in to the 21st Century, as well as reflecting on the contextualised performance of Shakespeare’s era, where originally there was a purely male cast.
Romeo, played by George Caple, and Julius, played by Elliot Kingsley, give a memorable performance as the leads, demonstrating true talent whilst portraying a gay and interracial relationship. In addition to the gender changes, race also underlines the plot as Romeo is white and Julius and the Capulets are not, introducing further dimensions of the reality of homosexuality in different communities and cultures where it is forbidden.
Bagnall encourages his audience to think of love and diversity which should be celebrated.
Dean Nolan as Mercutio and Melanie La Barrie as The Nurse both produce standout performances that are without doubt worth a watch. Nolan embodies a tremendously forceful presence as Mercutio that was intensely captivating and left me wanting more of his over exaggerated, nunchuck carrying, whiskey drinking masculinity, balanced perfectly with his comedic performance, even flashing the audience at one point. The powerful voice of Melanie La Barrie is worth a ticket on its own.
Melanie La Barrie and Dean Nolan in Romeo and Juliet, photo by Gary Calton.
The Everyman Company brings Romeo and Juliet to 2017 with a smoking Romeo even wearing ‘Yeezy’ trainers and a rave like scene that was full of neon, body paint and crop tops. I admired all the actors and actresses’ dedication to the play, each individual was completely in character and altogether revived Romeo and Juliet. This is why it is a must see for students who have studied the text, people familiar with Shakespeare’s work or for a new audience who are unfamiliar with the tale.
Even the music is modernised by the choral version of The Buzzcocks single, ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ that haunts the stage, echoing throughout the play which is an inspired touch by incorporating a song that captures the message of the narrative, ‘Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?’
As a stranger to the Everyman Theatre, I was delighted by how warm and welcoming the staff was, immediately creating an inviting environment which was replicated by the layout of the stage itself. The open, circular stage is a 360 degree, intimate design where the audience can gaze upon every aspect of the performance.
The minimum stage isn’t a disadvantage, it draws the audience into the plot. Bagnall choreographed the use of the space wonderfully, by offering a centre stage which raises and lowers accordingly (this was specifically symbolic during the death scenes) and then by placing four scaffolding towers in each corner, adding height to the performance; this was particularly effective when occupied by the singers. There are different levels within the set that mirrors the complexity of the plot and the mesmerising performance by The Everyman Company and members of the Young Everyman Playhouse.
As the first half is so fast paced and intense with graphic fight scenes (expect weapons and blood), apart from the pinnacle conclusion in the second half, there is a slight lull where there are elements of the dialogue that slows the narrative.
But, overall, it is a captivating, refreshing and must see performance. Having never been to the Everyman before, I will most definitely be returning!
You can catch Romeo and Juliet at The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool throughout June 2017. Tickets available at: https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/romeo-juliet