A black cloth, torn and irregular, is suspended over the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe – reminiscent of a foreboding spider’s web. From the very beginning, this ominous material hangs over the proceedings of Romeo and Juliet, metaphorically representing the production’s emphasis on death, and the destructive power of love.
Yet this sinister setting – so befitting of the events that are to unfold underneath its canopy of catastrophe – is juxtaposed with Daniel Kramer’s humorous approach to the Shakespearean text, which turns The Bard’s most famous tragedy into a comic performance.
From Romeo’s goth-like teenage tantrums, to the hedonistic fancy dress party at the Capulet’s reminiscent of an intense night clubbing in Ibiza, Kramer creates a dystopian setting for his production that draws on a multitude of influences. The era of the New Romantics, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and intense electronic music all combine to create a new thematic approach to the play; one quite difficult to define and to decipher because of its outrageous contrast to the original context.
At times it seems the production aims to be more relatable to a modern day audience, with Juliet’s worries of coming on too strong (“if thoust think I am too quickly won…”) reflecting the social dating taboo of appearing ‘too keen’. At others, it just seems like the company are testing the boundaries of what they can get away with.
Shakespeare’s lines are delivered – especially by Romeo – like spoken word poetry, or rap. The characters are at the mercy of their emotions, overtly expressing and overindulging in every fleeting feeling; which at times adds a humorous edge to scenes, and at others feels like petulant teenage angst, making light of the gravity of emotions the play explores.
Despite being in danger of insincerity at points, Kramer’s ambitions of cross cutting between scenes, and displaying multiple timelines simultaneously works to great effect. This is particularly successful as Romeo and Juliet’s wedding is inter-spliced with the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt, their simultaneousness highlighting the direct effect of the union. However, the director’s keenness to make the most of this dramatic technique (as inspired by Emma Rice’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) renders the production at danger of overusing the device.
Daniel Kramer’s Romeo and Juliet is a perfect example of a Shakespeare adaptation with good intentions; to shed new light upon a historical text with a modern approach. However, through its shortcomings, it highlights that in order to achieve this aim, a greater clarity of intention is required.
Romeo and Juliet is playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 9 July.