“What if, in the story of Romeo and Juliet, the real star-crossed lovers were Tybalt and Mercutio?” It’s the question on nobody’s lips. There are several plausible gay relationships in the Shakespeare canon, and this isn’t one of them. But Starcrossed is still, somehow, delightful.
Conner Delves plays Mercutio as a light-hearted libertine; camp, happily promiscuous, and prone to mischief. Tommy Sim’aan as Tybalt, by contrast, is serious and puritan, with a violent streak. Boy meets boy, worldviews clash, unexpected depths of character are revealed. They fall in love as Romeo and Juliet do – hastily and irrevocably.
The versatile and multi-talented Gethin Alderman, credited only as “The Player”, performs every other part. He is lovesick Romeo, condescending Paris, steely Capulet, and more, all with distinct mannerisms and voices, alternating comic sequences with deadly threats. He even manages to make his costume changes hilarious. Having such a tiny cast works very well, giving the romance an almost claustrophobic quality. It’s Mercutio and Tybalt against the world.
The story is entirely consistent with the events of Romeo and Juliet, but completely transforms the meaning behind them. Playwright Rachel Garnet clearly has a deep appreciation for the original play. Many of the most beautiful lines in her script are borrowed directly from Shakespeare and cleverly integrated. Her language is easier to digest than Shakespeare’s, without losing the character of it. The staging complements the script well, with a classic approach to music, costuming, and fight choreography that reminded me of Shakespeare’s Globe at its best.
It’s also incredibly funny and manages to be easily accessible to a modern audience without relying on lazy anachronisms or abandoning the Shakespearean atmosphere. Mercutio in particular is a joy to watch, quick-witted and tireless, providing a bountiful supply of innuendos, near-permanently winking at the audience. All three cast members have impeccable comic timing. At times it becomes farcical – secret relationships lead, inevitably, to hiding under a bed.
If there’s one weakness to highlight, it’s that Tybalt and Mercutio are too fast to identify the underlying significance of things and name it out loud. Where there are conflicts – Mercutio prefers to seek pleasure in the present moment while Tybalt is haunted by a grim sense of duty, they have radically different approaches to religion, family, violence, sexuality, alcohol – everything is brought to the surface and dissected. There is no space for the audience to process what we have heard, because it comes to us pre-packaged.
Partly because of this obviousness, the sense of tragedy is muted. When there are moments of profound feeling, they are plausible but not poetic, and do not wring out great emotion. (Not only do I habitually cry at Romeo and Juliet, I’ve also been known to cry at adverts. If I wasn’t crying during this play, few people will.)
“There is no new thing under the sun.” You might think that’s a misquote of Shakespeare, but it’s really from the King James Bible. This play confirms the saying – it plays through the beats of the genre (not theatre, but fanfiction) with affection and conviction. It never seeks to undermine or dismiss its source material. Rather it works imaginatively within its constraints. Shakespeare fans will find much to delight them here.
Written by: Rachel Garnet
Directed by: Philip Wilson
Produced by: Jacob Schott & Visceral Entertainment in association with Ticking Clock Theatre
Starcrossed plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until 25 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.