Romeo & Juliet is possibly the most over-told story of all time. At almost any given time in London, there is someone, somewhere, producing this play. At the moment, it’s BoxLit theatre, a company that runs entirely on donations. Their version, starring Chloe Levis as Juliet and a few other non-titular characters, and Sebastian Christophers as Romeo and a couple of others, including the Nurse and Capulet, uses a lit-up box as its stage, and is visually aided by film projected behind it. At just an hour long, it condenses one of Shakespeare’s most beloved texts to its bare bones, and performs what’s left in a minimalist way.
I never ever thought I’d say this, but this production was too short. There is usually nothing that fills me with more glee than the words ‘1 hour, no interval’ but I think Romeo and Juliet need more of our time. In BoxLit’s version, the already terribly rushed and rash decisions our “star cross’d lovers” make seem even more rushed and rash, if that were even possible. When they agree to get married in the famous balcony scene, it feels as though they just met five minutes ago, and that’s because in this production they did. There is no time to explore depths in the characters. We barely hear from Juliet at all, and so her actions seem entirely unjustified. Pivotal scenes in the plot, that are also filled with some of Shakespeare’s beautiful, evocative prose, are cut. The scenes in which Mercutio and Tybalt die are skimmed over, Juliet’s visit to Friar Lawrence is reduced to a few sentences. It’s a crash course through the worlds most famous love story, but unfortunately it doesn’t do it justice.
Christophers and Levis are chameleons, using a few indicative pieces of costumes and various accents and postures to indicate character changes. Levis takes on Friar Lawrence with an Irish twang, and, questionably, gives party boy Mercutio a Geordie accent. She is subdued and graceful as Juliet, while Christophers’ Romeo is boyish and excitable, frantic and naïve. He too transforms, to both the masterful Capulet and the motherly Nurse.
The piece is obviously heavily influenced by Baz Luhrman’s 1994 adaptation of the play. Alisdair Livingstone’s projections use a similar font to the film, and some of the stylistic choices and imagery are closely mimicked, specifically the costumes, comprised of denim, floaty fabrics, and baklavas for the feuding cousins. The use of sound could be cleaner, as the auditory transitions between scenes were abrupt and felt a little sloppy. Christophers and Levis are impressive in their ability to plough through such a rich text with just the two of them, but unfortunately BoxLit’s style doesn’t mesh well with the traditional text.
Romeo & Juliet is playing at the Rose Playhouse until 28 October. For more information and tickets, click here.