Romeo and Juliet – Creation Theatre (Oxford, August 2010)
“In fair Verona where we lay our scene”, the opening line of Creation Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet, seems out of place in the bustling city of Oxford, just minutes from the central Train station. However, within the enclosed courtyard of the Said Business School, one could easily be forgiven for finding themselves engrossed in the ‘fair’ Italian city.
Within seconds audience members find themselves being drawn into the skilfully choreographed street brawl between the two rivalling families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Those standing become the on-looking crowd forced to dodge low-swinging scaffolding poles and furiously told to “depart” as the performance moves upstairs to the outdoor amphitheatre. Unfortunately this is the last we see of such energetic physicality.
The frequent use of stylised dance gave each family a tribal, ritual-esque vibe, which was well entwined with modern music to create an edgy and eclectic atmosphere. The well-known play was skillfully adapted to include modern references and northern dialects, in particular for Nicky Goldie as the Nurse and Gordon Cooper as a Scottish Capulet. The inclusion of physical innuendo and references to clubbing, cocktails and cocaine, gave the performance an almost adolescent portrayal of ‘cool’, enticing and engaging younger audiences more so than a traditional adaptation may have done.
It was an interesting concept that Tybalt was coked up when he began the initial brawl with the younger Montagues; possibly a deliberate suggestion from Director Charlotte Conquest that his actions were rash and unpredicted due to a drug habit. This in itself is a moral message that isn’t often associated with the play, but one that could hold more significance for a younger audience.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with this particular play, the namesakes of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy were probably the weakest onstage. (The ‘star-crossed lovers’ were undoubtedly outdone on romance by the overly affectionate couple sat in front who seemed to feel the need to perform PDA throughout the entire performance.) Whilst Patrick Myles (Romeo) at least was able to inject some form of innocent emotion and need for involvement into his character, Amy Noble (Juliet) appeared better suited to the less involved role of Lady Montague, where she could engage more in the physicality required for the synchronised fight scenes. It is unfortunate that there seems to be an unwritten rule demanding the character of Juliet be played as a whingeing, stroppy, young 14 year old; it is often forgotten that in Elizabethan times children became considered adult at much earlier an age, as is mentioned in the script by her mother ‘I was your mother much upon these years’.
I would however, despite the weaker performance from the two protagonists, recommend this production purely for the fantastic portrayal of Mercutio given by Ben Askew. Askew gave the entire production an enthusiastic lift that appeared to be missing from the other performers. The close relationship between the three younger males, was held together through his crude physicality and energetic banter, that could have come straight from the school playground.