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Romeo & Juliet – National Youth Theatre REP season (Susan Elkin reviews)


Photo: Helen Murray

Set in 1956, this version of Shakespeare’s most famous love story is colourful and atmospheric. And if you see it on the same day as Pigeon English, the other opening play in the repertory, it becomes a very revealing showcase for the talents of these versatile young actors. Natasha Heliotis as a very effete upper crust Lady Capulet, for example, is in marked contrast to her earlier hobbling, mumbling old ladies.

James Mace is an appealing boyish Romeo, especially when he sits downstage on the steps in the second half and laments his fate in Mantua. Shakespeare gives Juliet the finest poetry but here Mace seems rather more eloquent than Shalisha James-Davis’s Juliet who does anger and emotion better than she speaks the lines.

Felix Mackenzie-Barrow’s Capulet speaks with deliciously strangled upper middle class vowel sounds and does a seriously impressive anger scene. Joshua Lyster-Downer is a charismatic, calm Friar Lawrence and Nathaniel’s American County Paris is an effective contrast. Arianna Beadle’s bespectacled Nurse, less vulgar than sometimes, is a good fit and Kwami Odoom is a warmly convincing Mercutio. And behind all of this is a powerful ensemble whose movement work is striking especially at the Capulet party. The underpinning Teddy Boy flavour really suits the play.

Shakespeare’s prologue promises us the “two hours’ traffic of our stage” and this production delivers it. The text is neatly edited and it nips along smartly, not least because of imaginative, seamless segueing of scenes so that sometimes two bits of action happen simultaneously on stage. And I really liked the idea of the Capulets planning Juliet’s wedding with Paris while Romeo and Juliet are in bed on stage with dawn is about to break. It highlights the tension.

There’s a lot of use of filmic music and movement in place of dialogue which works pretty well especially in the final scene which is unusually short. It is one of the many occasions in this show when director Kate Hewitt simply cuts to the chase.

 First published  Sardines
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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