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Romeo and Juliet, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

William Shakespeare 
Directed by Zoé Ford 

Pros: Some excellent performances and great direction. This well known script is engaging throughout the two hour and forty five minute performance. Add the sixties soundtrack and this modern take will appeal to a wide audience.

Cons: At times the sound and lighting are a bit clunky and I am not convinced by the interpretation of Juliet as a weeping frailty. A few performances pale against the more dynamic ones.

Our Verdict: Hiraeth Artistic Productions deliver high production standards and a really enjoyable version of this well known play. I’d strongly recommend it to students and newbies alike as this is very accessible Shakespeare.

Courtesy of Hiraeth Productions

I love Shakespeare, and one of the reasons I do is because the themes and stories are timeless. This production of the world’s most quoted love story proves just that. It is the sixties, with a ‘Mods and Rockers’ vibe and the scene is set for the rivalry between two families, Montague versus Capulet. I have to say the decision to set the play in this time period is genius as there are so many themes throughout the play which lend themselves perfectly to the sixties era. Liberated ideals, rebellion, sexual ‘enlightenment’ and rejection of convention all driven by the younger generation which ties in perfectly with the story of these two young lovers.

The cast should be congratulated on the delivery of the Shakespearean prose. There is nothing ‘thespian’ about it – very relaxed, everyday voices with everyday accents bring the old English right into the mid 20th century. This enables the story to emerge in a relatable and accessible way. There are a few stand out performances: David Vaughan-Knight as Capulet is fantastic. This part gets overlaid with a jumped-up-working-class character, eager to be at the social centre of society as he has ‘made it’ whilst failing to lose his uncultured manner entirely. I love this interpretation and Vaughan-Knight’s turn of phrase is perfect in conveying it effectively. Rosalind Blessed delivers a bawdy, funny Nurse with a wry smile and a knowing air. Blessed has great comic timing and her performance adds so much to the enjoyment and energy of the drama. Another pivotal performance is Alexander Neal as Mercutio – highly charged, confrontational and graceful, Neal brings real kudos to the rebellious and carnal thoughts of the young lads surrounding Romeo. Neal turns laborious prose into illustrative discourse with flamboyant flair and is mesmerising to watch.

The cast are consistent in delivering effortless and easily digestible performances and they work well together whilst carving out very distinct identities. I was a little underwhelmed with the derivation of Juliet’s character. Maya Thomas gives an enthralling emotional performance, however, the character is too soppy and feeble. Juliet lacks the defiance and irresponsibility associated with the youth of the sixties and this feels inconsistent with the period.

I could not finish without mentioning the direction and musical score, which are both excellent. The sound and lighting are used with ambitious intricacy to animate the drama. At times it is a bit off sync and a little over done, but at other moments, the lighting is cleverly spot on. There are a couple of choreographed dance scenes, which may sound cheesy but serve to anchor this four hundred year old story firmly in the sixties and the fight scenes are well executed and convincing. This is all set to a quintessential sixties beat which is perfectly placed throughout the play.

The program states that Hiraeth Artistic Productions “has found it’s stride in the transference of classical text, in particular Shakespeare, into other eras in history”. If this production is indicative of the talent in interpretation, direction and delivery on offer, then this is certainly true. Shakespeare has so much to offer new generations of audiences to come, all that is needed are creative and talented artistic directors like Zoé Ford to make it accessible and relevant.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Romeo and Juliet runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 2nd March 2013. 
Box Office: 020 8340 3488 or book online at http://www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/

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