With the current surge of knife crime in the UK, you can somewhat half see the idea that director Erica Whyman was going for with this latest RSC production of Romeo and Juliet. This is a modern take of the play set in 2019. It sees gender roles swapped in characters, rave music in the party scenes and all the actors talking in a multitude of different accents.
While I always give points for theatre companies trying new things, I felt this production definitely missed the mark. The concoction of 20 different accents on stage became a huge distraction for the audience, forcing them to focus on why Juliet’s family spoke with a Scottish, English and a London accent? The idea of using modern accents and making all the cast dance to rave music in the party scenes, didn’t add anything for me. It just stank of ‘Trying to be cool with the kids’ and I felt it actually took away from the play.
The casting choices were interesting, especially for the RSC. They deliberately played hard on the fact that Juliet was only 14 in the show and cast/dressed Romeo and Juliet to look pubescent. However, they didn’t touch on the issue about sex and marriage between a 13-year-old girl and a man. As they chose to set the play in the now, I found it jarring that this wasn’t addressed, particularly as they addressed modern issues in the rest of the play.
Lastly there was no chemistry between Romeo and Juliet and to be honest it was quite boring in most of the first act. The over sexualisation from a shouty female Mercutio, I felt took away from her important character and the impact it is meant to have on Romeo. Because of her portrayal of the character, when she died, I felt no sympathy for her and couldn’t understand why Romeo would want revenge of her murder.
Good things about the production were a minimalist set that was used very well and the older actors, especially the priest Andrew French who was strong and reactive.
Romeo & Juliet plays at the New Theatre until the 9thof March.