Home » Reviews » Off West End » Romeo and Juliet, The Rag Factory

Romeo and Juliet, The Rag Factory

William Shakespeare

Devised by Cut String Theatre
Pros: Intelligent performances, inventive staging. A raw, enjoyable experience.
Cons: If you are used to conventional theatre, especially in terms of box office experience, then this might not be for you – but you’ be missing out. 
Our Verdict: Remarkable work from a determined and extremely talented new theatre company with exciting potential. 
Courtesy of Cut StringTheatre
Cut String Theatre is one to watch. It is an ever saturated arts market where fledging theatre companies are popping up left, right and centre and struggling to secure funding for their creative outputs. It’s a tough environment. Cut String Theatre established themselves earlier this year following a self-lead crowd fund project using Kick-starter. With the meagre funds raised they have produced and presented a unique and very intelligent piece, underpinned with physical theatre elements and inventive staging. They are fighters, in more than one sense of the word. 
The Rag Factory, just off Brick Lane isn’t a conventional theatre space. It’s a collection of artist studios where the company have hired a room to showcase their version of Romeo and Juliet; part of a series called Blasted Heath. Blasted Heath is a collection of stripped down Shakespeare plays which aim to highlight the vitality and relevance of Shakespeare’s work. This cut down version focusses on the friendship between Mercutio and Romeo and the obvious romance between the title characters.
Some might argue that the choice of play is a little predictable and that it has been done far too many times before, but I think it’s a solid choice to demonstrate the company’s skills without taking too much of a leap of faith on new scripts or devised pieces. The characterisation from the entire cast is outstanding and there is good chemistry between the actors. Especially good is Romeo’s boylike infatuation with Juliet. The effortless way in which the actor (there was no cast list) playing both Tybalt and Juliet’s nursemaid hilariously flits between an aggressive Tybalt with a palpably threatening physical presence to a giggling, gossiping co-conspirator for Juliet is also impressive. 
The physical skill of the actors brought an interesting dimension to the piece. The staging, a simple thrust style catwalk, was surrounded with scaffolding which the cast swung around, and clung to during the action. Naturally, this was especially well used during the infamous balcony scene. I was disappointed that it wasn’t utilised a little more, but it was quite a small space so perhaps that limited the potential for its use in this case. The physical skill of the actors also lended itself well to illustrating the feud between Tybalt and the Montague’s. Using thick, wooden sticks the actors sparred at points, using them to strike the set to illustrate the tension. Sitting in the first row there was a small concern I might get smacked in the face but surprisingly this didn’t break my attention from the action as much as it should have. 
Another plus of the physical element was the discipline of the actors, not breaking character and using simple but effective costumes and props to portray other characters in the play and the division between the feuding houses. 
There is one, reasonably large caveat to this piece. Here at Everything Theatre we like to review the entire experience, including the visitor experience at the venue. I was told that the piece started at 8.45pm which wasn’t the case and infact it didn’t start until 9.20pm which was quite frustrating. It’s hard to be too critical having seen the piece but some warning when booking, or some signage upon arrival could have made this clearer and would not have put me out as much.
Though it’s arguable that Cut String’s approach to reinventing classic theatre is not entirely new and that there were weaknesses to the piece which could mainly be attributed to lack of budget and space. Cut String’s production was certainly extremely well directed, acted and put together. The potential of what this company could do if given a proper space and budget is pretty exciting. Watch out for these fighters. Hopefully they’ll be coming to theatre near you very soon! 
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Romeo & Juliet runs at The Rag Factory until 17th August 2013.

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Everything Theatre is proud to support fringe theatre, not only in London but beyond. From reviews to interviews, articles and even a radio show, our work is at the heart of the industry, and we are official assessors for the Off West End OffComm awards. Founded in 2011 as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts, today we are staffed by diverse contributors - people who not only work in theatre, but also in law, medicine, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for theatre.