Grassroots Shakespeare London presents an effervescent and humorous interpretation of the famous romantic classic. As an original practices company, the production relies on collaborative direction rather than a sole director. What emerges is a modern and well-paced rendition of Romeo & Juliet with an improvisational, fluid quality and infectious energy.
The ad-libbing and artfully re-contextualised transposition of dialogue to a modern context adds to, rather than subtracts from, the power of the language. As part of the six week Summer of Love programme, this is a Romeo & Juliet that nudges, winks and raises a couple of shot glasses to the Bard’s cheeky innuendos and blatant double entendres. The delivery of the play’s most famous lines rarely falls flat and at best, adds a fresh, jocund dimension – such as when Loren O’Brien’s plucky Juliet imbues the well-known utterance of “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” with a petulance and lassitude more reminiscent of a Super Sweet Sixteen daddy’s princess than a yearning damsel.
There is a youthful and effortlessly contemporary quality to the production, with some truly inspired casting choices. Nicola Fox is excellent, managing to be both simpering and tenderly sympathetic as the Nurse. Alex Bedward attaches a sensuous, beguiling quality to her Benvolio, and Lucas Livesey is a droll and scene-stealing Lady Capulet, although we could do with more subtlety with James Swanton’s somewhat overplayed Friar Laurence. The artistic and movement direction of Siobhan Daly and Bennet Gartside must also be credited for overseeing that the actors’ movements and collaborative choreography come across as organic, and filled with a genuine sense of fun and engagement with the dialogue.
It is refreshing to see a production of Romeo & Juliet that manages to largely maintain its energy and liveliness, and draw attention to the ensemble as a whole rather than simply its star-crossed lovers. However, this might be where this adaptation potentially falls flat for some. Boris Mitkov is suitably maudlin and idealistic as Romeo, and O’Brien brings a pleasing inelegance and gaucheness to her Juliet, but they do not entirely convince as an infatuated pair who would rather face death than separation. Furthermore, the sparkling energy and momentum of the play has to eventually ease up to make way for the story’s inexorably tragic, and universally well-known, conclusion. This is why everything lags slightly in the final act. Nonetheless, the excellent cast never veers toward histrionics and the demands of the plot do not take away from an overall enjoyable and accessible production.
Romeo & Juliet is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 27 July 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Old Red Lion Theatre website.