Romeo and Juliet
The Attic Theatre
How would most people like to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death? By taking part in a ballot for tickets to an exclusive concert? No. By going to visit a theatre which is not putting on any plays that weekend? A daft idea, particularly for regular theatre-goers. By seeing a play by Marlowe the week before or after? I don’t think so. Or an adaptation of Cervantes? No. By going to an expensive lunch with a speaker? Certainly not.
Luckily we have in Stratford a theatre company which does not share the RSC’s disregard of and bproduction of Romeo and Juliet, the only play by Shakespeare to be seen in Stratford the anniversary weekend. Good for them. They have listened to their audience and given them what they want.
James Tanton’s production is set in France which necessitates the substitution of Paris for Verona and Britannia for Mantua. What works well is the decision to make Juliet rising 18 rather than Shakespeare’s rising 14. Tanton is concerned to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet and for this reason only the young people are psychologically credible. We side with them rather than with the Irish Friar Lawrence, the overblown Lord and Lady Capulet and the often strident, loud and shrill Scottish Nurse. The Nurse and Friar Lawrence are, of course, rather a nightmare to play in this early Shakespearian tragedy because their motivation is so sketchily drawn, and I didn’t understand why they did what they did any better here than in other productions I have seen. Anthony G Wilkes’s down to earth Benvolio forms a solid moral centre in the piece, but a centre which cannot hold, powerless against the more sinister forces operating in the play. Tom Riddell’s Paris is good to look at, effectively understated and entirely credible. I didn’t understand why Mercutio is female, nor why she is so bizarrely hyperactive, often to the point of incomprehensibility. When she is with Romeo Ashleigh Dickinson’s Juliet is real, tender and worthy of our empathy. With others she often speaks too fast and too loudly.
The star of the show, however, is Matthew Bradley’s Romeo. This is a fine performance, a respite from the shouting and over-projection which characterises the action and discourse when he is not on stage. His Romeo is reflective, the moments of hot-headedness clearly the effect of youth rather than natural temperament. Bradley’s verse speaking is impeccable and his character completely understandable. The famous balcony scene sees both him and Ashleigh Dickinson at their very best. It is beautifully done and worth going to admire. Together in the tomb in Act V they are similarly real and affecting.
Congratulations, Tread the Boards and Producer Catherine Prout, for celebrating the anniversary of our greatest playwright’s death appropriately.