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A CurtainUp London London Review
Romeo and Juliet

There's no trust,
No faith, no honesty in men; all are perjur'd
All foresworn, all naught, all dissemblers.
— The Nurse
Romeo and Juliet
Mariah Gale as Juliet and Sam Troughton as Romeo (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
London is better served this year by the Royal Shakespeare Company with six Shakespeare plays coming into The Roundhouse in Camden Town and three more new works to Hampstead Theatre in the Spring of 2011. The new generation of associate directors for the RSC include David Farr, Lucy Bailey and Rupert Goold, who here directs Romeo and Juliet which opened on the day that the RSC announced a five year collaboration with The Roundhouse making it their London home.

Goold's reimagining of this tale of star crossed lovers is to cut out the light and give a dark and occluded medieval Verona shrouded in mystery and the arcane. We stumble on Verona through the eyes of a modern day tourist armed with an obligatory camera and the prologue is spoken as if on a tape for visitors. The tourist visits the cathedral from which light is falling in a triangle of rays and suddenly is caught up in an exciting street fight between the factions of the Montagues and Capulets. Plumes of steam escape from the floor and flames flare up in a pyrotechnic fest in an animated crowd scene lit by flaming torches.

The tourist who is caught up in the melée turns out to be Sam Troughton the actor playing Romeo; he and Juliet are the only people in modern dress at the beginning of the play, maybe an allusion to the timelessness of their youthful story or to make them different from the crowd, isolated? The prince intervenes and all are commanded to drop their swords and daggers throwing them down onto the stage.

Black hooded monks with religious relics or trays of flowers carried above their heads place us in fifteenth century Italy and in the scene where Lady Capulet (Christine Entwisle) prepares for the ball, her turbaned servants are straight out of Ingres' famous painting of the bathhouse. While Lady Capulet talks about a marriage for Juliet (Mariah Gale) she plays with a light on a string whirling it wound to form a bright ring and she twirls it faster and faster while looking furiously at what her mother is proposing. A silent act of resistance. The choreography of the ballroom scene is memorable with group movement to a clapping dance with exaggerated hand movements and with Juliet dancing wildly in the centre.

Some of the verse is spoken unevenly. Mercutio (Jonjo O'Neil) is the most bizarre of all with a stilted delivery — and an Northern Irish accent playing for comedy which Tybalt (Joseph Arkley) counters with a Scottish accent. The diction generally is not always as clear as it should be and the height of the Roundhouse can suck up the onstage sound. (This production was originally staged at the purpose built Courtyard Theatre in Stratford).

I quite liked Mariah Gale's feisty Juliet and Sam Troughton's gap year student Romeo but there were times when the ensemble acting did not seem to measure up to Goold's ideas. This play should centre round the passionate love Romeo and Juliet have for each other and I wasn't convinced. Of course the casting would be limited by the already chosen ensemble who have committed to three years with the RSC. There is no doubt that Capulet (Richard Katz) is a bully to his daughter and his wife as he throws a glass of wine over Juliet while ordering her to marry Paris. The terror for Juliet is not a forced marriage but the sin, the act of bigamy. Lady Capulet looks distraught, her fashion sense destroyed, after the death of Tybalt.

The Apothecary (Patrick Romer) is like a modern day drug dealer and his arrival seems to herald a costume switch. The closing scene sees a change from historical costume for all except Romeo and Juliet where in their final scene Juliet wears a period wedding dress and Romeo a monk's disguise. In the graveyard the Veronans talk on walky talkies and use flashlight torches as the play returns firmly to the 21st century.

Rupert Goold's work is always worth watching for new ideas. However, with a guaranteed audience for the RSC in Stratford and London of schoolchildren studying this play for their public examinations, no RSC interpretation dare be too off the wall.

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Romeo and Juliet
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rupert Goold

Starring: Sam Troughton, Mariah Gale, Noma Dumezweni
With: Joseph Arkley, David Carr, Dyfan Dwyfor, Christine Entwisle, Gruffudd Glyn, James Howard, Richard Katz, Debbie Korley, Forbes Masson, Jonjo O'Neill,  Dharmesh Patel, Peter Peverley, Patrick Romer, David Rubin, Oliver Ryan, Simone Saunders, James Traherne, Kirsty Woodward.  
Designed by Tom Scutt
Lighting: Howard Harrison
Composer and Sound: Adam Cork
Video Projection by Lorna Heavey
Choreography by Georgina Lamb
Fights by Terry King
Running time: Three hours five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 800 1110
Booking at The Roundhouse to 1st January 2010 then 3rd March to 2nd April 2011 in Stratford upon Avon and 10th July to 13th August 2011 Lincoln Centre New York
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd December 2010 performance at The Roundhouse Chalk Farm Road London NW15th November 2010 (Tube: Chalk Farm)

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