Review: Romeo and Juliet, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
For the final show of the five productions in its revival season, the Liverpool Everyman Company has played it safe with Romeo and Juliet. Except that it hasn’t, quite, for this in fact is Romeo and Julius, Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers transformed into a young gay couple whose romance is doomed to end in death.
The change works remarkably well, with centuries-old lines about forbidden love – “What’s in a name?” – given contemporary relevance when delivered by two young men whom society wants to keep apart. That modernity is driven home by director Nick Bagnall’s repeated use of a choir, singing the Buzzcocks’ refrain: “Ever fallen in love with someone/ You shouldn’t have fallen in love with?”, asking a question of the audience, suggesting that many of us might at some stage have directed our passions at somebody who others deemed inappropriate.
Some of the set-pieces in this production are particularly powerful – the party at which Romeo and Julius first meet has echoes of a heady nightclub and of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of the play. The opening scene suggests the audience are in for a Gomorrah-style battle between two warring mob clans. But while this mafia styling resurfaces in places throughout, elsewhere the costumes and accents are inconsistent, resulting in confusion about where and when the action is taking place.
The use of different levels and in-the-round staging works well most of the time, creating division between enemies, lovers, the living and the dead. At a few key moments, however, the passion of an intimate scene is diluted by being able to see only the back of a speaker’s head.
There are strong performances, notably from George Caple as a fresh-faced Romeo (Elliott Kingsley gets into his stride as Julius in the second half) and Melanie La Barrie as the nurse. Dean Nolan’s Mercutio is brash and physically domineering – and carries echoes of the charismatic actor’s other performances this season. The dozens of additional performers from the theatre’s award-winning Young Everyman Playhouse programme, led by talented principles Isobel Balchin and Alice Corrigan, bring scale to the production, and it was a nice touch to include the wider Everyman family in the company project. It was a shame, however, to see some of the stand-out stars from this season, particularly Emily Hughes and Laura Dos Santos, benched for the group’s final outing.
Those who missed their starring roles in other shows still have a chance to catch them. From June 8 to July 1, the company will be performing all five of their plays from the season in rep, with discounts on tickets of up to 40 per cent for those who book to see them all. It will be a challenge for the actors, and a heady finale to a strong renaissance for the Everyman’s rep company. Here’s hoping that it is back in 2018.
Romeo and Juliet is at the Everyman is in rep along with Fiddler on the Roof, Conquest of the South Pole, The Story Giant and The Sum from June 8 – July 1, 2017.
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