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Romeo and Juliet, Old Red Lion Theatre

William Shakespeare
Directed by Grassroots Shakespeare London

Pros: Say what you like about Shakespeare, but he knew how to write a play. Romeo is excellent and Juliet lends a bit of spice to a role that can be bland when performed with less skill. This production is energetic and entertaining.

Cons: Not all performances were as strong as they might have been and the music was, at times, distracting.

Our Verdict: When performed well, Romeo and Juliet is funny and tragic, violent and emotional. Happily, Grassroots Shakespeare London pulls it off very well with a strong cast. Highly recommended. 

Courtesy of Grassroots Shakespeare London

I’ve never seen a play without a director. If somebody had suggested it to me, I would have conjured up images of chaos and battling egos. What I got, however, was an engaging adaptation of the greatest love story in the English language, featuring some impressive performances.

For those unfamiliar with the Bard’s most famous celebrity couple, let me summarise: Romeo is a Montague and Juliet a Capulet. Like south London gangs, the two families are at war (for reasons not adequately explained). When Romeo and Juliet meet at a party hosted by Juliet’s parents (at which Romeo is a gatecrasher), they fall in love and begin an affair. Within twenty four hours, they are married in secret.

Happily ever after would of course have meant no play, though. On the day of the wedding, Romeo fights with Tybalt, who is Juliet’s cousin (passionately played by Alec Parkinson), resulting in Tybalt’s death. For Juliet, blood is not always thicker than water and although initially torn, she forgives Romeo. Unfortunately, the Prince of Verona banishes Romeo from the kingdom. As Juliet is faced with a future married to a man she does not love (at her parents’ insistence), she hatches a plan to escape with her beloved Romeo.

When I read the words ‘modern adaptation’ and ‘Shakespeare’ in the same sentence, horrible thoughts of Baz Luhrmann present themselves. Thankfully, my fears were not realised. The script is performed with great dexterity and with a playful edge that is so often lacking in sub-par adaptations.

It’s hard to have a successful production of Romeo and Juliet without a strong Romeo and Boris Mitkov does not disappoint. His handling of the poetry is excellent and energetic, and his chemistry with Juliet is all that it should be. He switches from wistful poet to passionate lover to ruthless killer with ease and charm.

Loren O’Brien brings a sassy dimension to the role of Juliet and her background in stand-up comedy shines through in a quick witted performance. American accents can sound out of place in Shakespeare (I’m thinking about Luhrmann again), but O’Brien uses it to her advantage, creating amusing asides and lending an edgy spice to such a well-known part.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Jonathan Akingba, playing the Prince of Verona and the Chorus, whose powerful voice fills the stage every time he appears, Alex Bedward, whose playful Benvolio is all the more irresistible for the fact that she is a woman playing a man, and Matthew Cavendish, whose distemper at his daughter’s disobedience made me quake in the back row. Last, but not least, Lucas Livesey’s delightfully camp rendition of Lady Capulet is a great nod to traditional Shakespearean cross-dressing, with a twist of Twenties glamour thrown in.

If I had to criticise (which, alas, is my raison d’être), I would say that the tinny piano score over the final scene is unnecessary and, indeed, distracting. Music can be handy cushioning when performances aren’t up to snuff; here, it simply took away from powerful and tragic finale.

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

Romeo and Juliet is part of the Summer of Love running at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 27 July 2013.
Box office: 0844 412 4307 or book online at

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