Romeo and Juliet review – lovers and fighters are pawns in Shakespeare’s devastating game

Rapiers and sand-timers mix with skinny jeans and rave music in this pacy production of Shakespeare’s most famous love story. The aesthetic mixture sets the tone for a show that offers entertaining elements, but lacks a binding thread through its core.

Rather than over-romanticising her leading lovers, director Kimberley Sykes presents them as rash, immature teenagers. Juliet (Isabel Adomakoh Young) is an impatient whirlwind, her skittering thoughts focused solely on her Romeo (Joel MacCormack) who mopes and moans, constantly on the edge of heartbreak. As their families feud around them, the overdramatic pair have eyes for nothing and no one but each other.

But forget the star-crossed lovers. The best fun here occurs with the ragtag bunch Romeo hangs out with. Cavan Clarke is a cocky, charming, restless Mercutio, and the stage is most alive when he’s on it. He seems to revel in his words, speaking them with as much flourish as he uses when wielding his sword. When he dies, the rest of the play feels the lack of him.

Around the lovers and fighters, the city seems uneasy. A great concrete crack zigzags down the centre of the stage, a relic of an earthquake a decade prior. A three-tiered scaffold structure sits behind it, making the stage into an unfinished building site. But there’s no one at work here; it gives the impression of a long-halted work-in-progress, a city in which devastation struck and tensions have been left to simmer ever since.

When a new death occurs, there’s a thunderous sound like the ground cracking open. The dead walk across the stage and take a seat in the audience – Montagues in black on one side, Capulets in white on the other – resembling pawns plucked from a chess board, ready to be played in the next game. In between dance breaks and blood packs, Sykes’s production suggests that the blame for the wave of deaths in this dry, dusty city doesn’t lie with these individuals. They’re just acting out the traumas and tensions that have gone before.

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