‘Romeo and Juliet’ review

Theatre, Shakespeare Barbican Centre , Barbican Thursday December 20 2018 - Saturday January 19 2019
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Misfiring millennial take on Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy

The RSC’s new ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is almost impressively tone deaf. Styled as a modern-dress production about knife-happy teens, it transfers down to London at a time when youth stabbings in the capital are massive news. And yet it has nothing to say about this, really: Shakespeare can be painfully illuminating of modern times, but this just feels like an aesthetic choice barely thought through – a jumble of posh kids swinging at each other for reasons that feel obscure in a contemporary context.

I appreciate it’s not like director Erica Whyman is exactly fighting the text here – it is literally a drama about kids killing each other.

You can see that she’s made a concerted effort to get in touch with the teenage pulse of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy. Big names are eschewed in favour of actors who could mostly pass for teens (some are in fact actual schoolkids); the line about Juliet still being 13 is shoved pointedly to the fore; everyone’s a bit heteroflexible and listens to grime. But it doesn’t really work: sure, 13-year-olds still fall for older men. But that’s not what Whyman seems to really be exploring. There are teenage trappings everywhere, but it never seriously feels like it’s grappling with the radically different reality of teenhood in 2018, versus that of 1595. There is a reason the star cross’d lovers tend to be pitched a little older.

A lack of chemistry between Bally Gill‘s nice guy Romeo and Karen Fishwick’s gobby Juliet doesn’t help. There’s no real sense of them falling for each other – they just start chatting at the Capulet ball and immediately appear to be together, like one of those dull couples who appear to have simply existed since the dawn of time.

There is good stuff: I enjoyed Charlotte Josephine’s wreckhead Mercutio, and Michael Hodgson and Mariam Haque turn in detailed and thoughtful performances as Juliet’s parents, really making the most of their small roles. But it’s far too little to give the production nuance as a whole.

Even if you’re cool with the politics, if you’re talking about work liable to turn teens onto Shakespeare, this feels like a pale shadow of the Globe’s terrific 2016 ‘Imogen’. Or if it’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ you’re after, the Baz Luhrmann version still surely stacks up stronger. Young audiences would be better saving their money for the RSC’s excellent house-of-horror ‘Macbeth’, also at the Barbican, than this insensitive dud.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

Posted:

Venue name: Barbican Centre
Contact:
Address: Beech Street
Barbican
London
EC2Y 8AE
Transport: Tube: Barbican; Rail/Tube: Moorgate
Price: £10-£59.50. Runs 2hr 43min
Event website: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2018/event/royal-shakespeare-company-romeo-and-juliet
Static map showing venue location
    • Barbican Centre £10-£59.50. Runs 2hr 43min
    • Barbican Centre £10-£59.50. Runs 2hr 43min
    • Barbican Centre £10-£59.50. Runs 2hr 43min

Average User Rating

3.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:8
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:1
LiveReviews|14
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tastemaker

I have got mixed feelings after seeing this contemporary version of an all-time classic which is Romeo and Juliet. 

A brave attempt resulted in an average outcome. 

The tragic story of two teenage lovers is set in current setting; it could be London it could be anywhere. What I disliked the most apart from staging and costumes is lack of passion or chemistry between Romeo and Juliet. Romeos acting did not convince me at all in fact. 

On a positive note, stars of the evening were Mercutio, the Nurse and Juliete's parents - all of them delivered an outstanding performance. Is is a worth seeing play due to its uniqueness and Barbican itself. 

tastemaker

I loved the original Shakespeare play of Romeo and Juliet having studied it at college. I was looking forward to seeing its again after so many years. Even though I enjoyed it, I would say I preferred the original version better. There was a fun modernised take on the old classic with the cast wearing jeans and T-shirt’s, and mostly dresses in black. I was much more looking forward to the traditional costumes as I think that would of better portrayed the story. I enjoyed some of the modern references and slang but at times it was difficult to follow and understand what was being said. There was also a lack of connection with Romeo and Juliet and chemistry was lacking. I really liked the Barbican theatre though and would visit there again for a different performance. A fun night out but not too far removed from the original story for me.

tastemaker

Whilst I appreciated the efforts to add a modern spin on this classic play, I think it didn't go quite far enough. The acting was of a fairly decent level, but it just wasn't very excitingly - there were definitely many moments of boredom where I just couldn't get invested in what was going on. There was also a definite lack of chemistry between Romeo and Juliet, which made their love story hard to believe.


Huge shout out though to Charlotte Josephine for her portrayal of Mercutio - captivating and engaging throughout, she was by far the stand out performance. 

tastemaker

Wasn't sure what to expect with this adaptation of the Shakespeare classic, though as it is by Royal Shakespeare Company, I knew it would be of a good standard.

The Barbican theatre itself is very impressive, one of the best theatres I've been to. When walking in, you notice the set. It is very minimal. So intrigued as to where they could go, and how they would use it. The cast, wore modern clothing. More 'street' style, mainly in black. It is a contemporary and fresh performance, with some young talented actors / actresses. 

tastemaker

I enjoy Shakespeare and was excited to hear this modern adaptation of the fatal love story. The Barbican is an impressive theatre space with great views of the stage from all angles. The set was very modern with a rustic warehouse vibe with strong metal frames and minimal props distracting from the acting. This production boasted a cast of young talented actors who gave it their all. The modern clothing and spin helped propel the star crossed lovers into a new era however the chemistry between Romeo and Juliet was lacking. The accents and slang at times were also hard to follow leaving the production feeling slightly disjointed at times. In saying this I still enjoyed this rendition watching through to the final fatal scene as if I didn’t already know a thousand times over what was going to happen.

tastemaker

Initially I was a little concerned about the minimal set and the youthful cast but once this production gets into its stride, those fears are quickly put to bed.

This really is an energetic, forceful performance of Shakespeare’s most famous love story. Genuinely very strong performances across the board - with the notable exception of one lady who unfortunately is one of those terrible ‘look at me’ actors who can take you out of the illusion of the play with a grating, caricatured performance.

The first half did feel a bit too long but apart from this, the play is very unique, engaging and impressive.

tastemaker

First and foremost, the Barbican theatre is an incredible setting to watch any performance in - a beautiful Brutalist backdrop to drama. The seats are also extraordinarily comfortable. We were sat in Row E and the view was exceptional.


Onto the play itself, I think Shakespeare, while popular, can be hard to keep captivating due to the use of language. This adaptation brings it into the new age but perhaps doesn't commit fully. Parts where slang have been brought in work well for humour but aren't upheld throughout. There was a section during the first half after Mercutio's death that could have done with a bit of spice. Charlotte Josephine's portrayal of Mercutio was INSANE and both my boyfriend and I agreed that she was the star of the show. Both Romeo and Juliet were captivating, but some of the other scenes with supporting cast were slightly lacklustre. I'd recommend going to see and making your own mind up - even if just to get it on the Barbican ambience itself. 

Tastemaker

A modern version of Romeo and Juliet which unfortunately doesn't manage to reach the expected outcome. A team of really talented young actors are trying to re-tell the Shakespeare's most famous story under a new aspect but there seems to be no coherence. The stage is minimal with a clever metallic/industrial rotating cube to change the scenes/atmosphere but the direction is dull; it is neither too modern to attract young audience nor too traditional to attract older audience. It is something in between confusing of what is the purpose of this version. At the end, it becomes an uninspired remake that keeps you watching your clock when it will eventually finish.

tastemaker

I had low expectations of this show as I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan but I left feeling genuinely impressed with what I’d seen. The set was a little dull for such an inspiring and impressive theatre but a sparse set does force you to really focus in on the actors.

When the cast first attacked the stage at the start my expectations lowered even further as the cast are young, many genuinely mere children but by the end of the show I was used to the young hipster approach and I admit that the cast were all really good. Romeo was good. Juliet was amazing. And the shoe contained a few chuckles.

I’m still not a huge fan of Shakespeare but this production brought a new style with a modern take on the play and I really enjoyed the experience.

tastemaker

Whilst its normally so refreshing to see a modern take on a play we all thought we knew inside out (this production had a female Mercutio for example, and accents from all over the UK) this production had a few touches (red roses, floral shirts) which couldn’t help but remind me of the Baz Luhrmann film adaptation!


One undeniable plus point was the theatre itself.  The Barbican theatre is a beautiful space and I couldn’t believe I’d never been before. There’s surely no such thing as a bad seat in that place.  
tastemaker

Oh this Shakespeare slang, which is fascinating and impossible to comprehend at the same time. A timeless love story of Romeo and Juliette in Barbican is not a traditional Shakespeare play where you need to concentrate on the dramatic poetry. Beautiful verses give greater licence in expression to a modern youthful play with the diverse casting. 


“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” 


They managed to tell Romeo and Juliette story in the 21st century style. They travelled in time 5 centuries ahead and brought in to the play current youth struggles, violence, domestic abuse, society limitations and challenges, acceptance of what was perceived to be unacceptable, portraying diversity and inclusion as a norm.

My only criticism was the opening scene as it looked like a line of amateurs on their rehearsal in a local theatre.

After that it got better and better. Romeo was absolutely brilliant, both him and Juliette made their love story believable and emotional.     


Tastemaker

When I heard this was a modern adaption of Romeo and Juliet I was excited to finally find something more accessible that the stuff I studied at school. Whilst it lived up mostly to this expectation, there were a couple of negatives.


One such negative was the sound - I was in row F, so pretty close to the stage, yet didn't hear some of the lines, and with Shakespeare so wordy, missing out on some can leave you lost in seconds. Also wasn't a massive fan of the script interjecting local slang into certain lines, it felt a little out of place, but I appreciate the effort to try and bring it up to date.


I have to offer huge praise for Charlotte Josephine's portrayal of Mercutio - it's incredible. Super captivating, and my eyes couldn't help but be drawn to her whenever she was on the stage. The chemistry between Romeo & Juliet was a little drab and there wasn't much development of the relationship, but this can be overlooked if you're keen on going. 


So overall, it's a bit of a mixed bag. If you're a die hard Shakespeare fan, this is probably something different that you would enjoy as it gives a different take on a classic.

Tastemaker

I really enjoyed this production of Romeo and Juliet. The couple are meant to be young and here they are school kids coping with how they wish to be seen by their peers and coping with the intensity of teenage love and sex. It is so current, that it felt it was a drama about a news story that is happening today. It spoke about youth culture and knife crime. I loved how they made 400 year old words feel relevant to today.

I thought Bally Gill was fantastic as a modern day Romeo and I really enjoyed Karen Fishwick's feisty Juliet. I also enjoyed Josh Finan's take on Benvolio, giving him an awkward schoolboy crush on Romeo.

Don't go expecting a re-enactment of a 400 year old play. If you go for a vision of why this play is still relevant to society today then you won't be disappointed. 

Even after 400 years, Romeo and Juliet is still a great play and this production demonstrates why.


I have to preface this review by saying I'm not the biggest fan of Shakespeare and haven't seen any of his works since studying them in school. I've always found the language of Shakespeare highly inaccessible and when I heard that this was a modern adaptation I had high hopes that I would find it easier to enjoy. Alas, this was not the case. The way the characters were portrayed, the accents, the language and the slang make it very difficult for anyone who is not a Londoner to decipher. The character of Mercutio is particularly difficult to understand being portrayed as a chavish 'youth' and is incredibly annoying and distracting to watch in action. There also seemed to be no amplification in use so any time the actors turned away from the audience the dialogue became a quiet mumble. Sitting quite close to the stage I struggled to hear what they were saying at times, I'd hate to be sitting towards the back of the theatre or hard of hearing. The set or lack thereof also made the whole performance a little lacklustre. There didn't seem to be much by way of chemistry on stage and at the performance I   went to many of the actors missed lines repeatedly.


Sorry to say that I didn't really enjoy the performance at all and if, as I suspect, the point was to introduce Shakespeare to a younger audience then it failed miserably. Maybe I'm not the intended audience and as I said I'm already a little biased in my opinion on Shakespeare but it just wasn't for me. On a positive note, it was my first time in the Barbican and I have to say the theatre itself is a beautiful work of architecture.

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