Two nuclear style bombs hang over the stage of Shakespeare's Globe adding a sense of fatalistic explosion to the story we all know and have seen dozens of times. The tragedy itself has proved it is pretty immune to directorial intervention, from modern dressed productions to those set in fractured communities around the world. Much of the effort of the story telling is removed as it's assumed most are familiar with these star-crossed lovers, and so the focus then becomes on the method of telling and how far each new production can push it, a challenge this production certainly rises to.
Following the controversial sacking of Emma Rice as Artistic Director due to her creative difference with the board who are seemingly against such modern trappings as sound, lighting and set design, this whole production reads as a huge two fingers up to the establishment to kick off this final season of the short-lived new guard. Opera director Daniel Kramer certainly doesn't lack ambition in this radical retelling but much of it feels self consciously crying out for attention with each actor shouting louder than the next above the noise. A creative fusion of design and aesthetics lead to a somewhat muddied vision that never feels tightly composite or complete and for all the effort involved in pushing the boundaries the core sense of tragedy is grievously overlooked.
Purists will no doubt wince at each flashing strobe light, each reprise of the YMCA and the fact that Romeo's death was ultimately caused by a delayed Fed-Ex parcel. I personally have no qualms accepting such modern interventions, but I couldn't help feel as a production is was fighting them rather than using them to the best of their advantage. Kramer's fresh approach works best when he uses the text innovatively, introducing split-scenes and staging key moments side by side. It's at these points where the pacing starts to drive and the clown-show grotesque against which Kramer frames the action feels justified and that vaudeville playfulness earns its keep.
Edward Hogg's stroppy Romeo is nicely placed within the noisy production and he's appropriately moody and sulks in his unrequited love for Rosalind. After meeting Kirsty Bushell's brash and somewhat too-knowing Juliet the fun is allowed to develop and we find ourselves engaged in their tragedy. The balcony scene is well placed using a step ladder throughout the pit that feeds into the comedy of the situation and the tone is kept suitably light and exciting as the script itself threatens to become overly familiar. Bushell too pushes the comedy which makes for a more powerful Juliet than the 14-year old character suggests, but its fresh and fun to watch.
Golda Rosheuvel is a powerfully engaging Mercutio bounding across the stage and raising the energy to catastrophic heights that many of the others fight to match. Some supporting performances verge on the overblown and the constant need for attention quickly becomes tiresome as it ends up feeling like a hunger games of who can occupy most time front and centre. Blythe Duff's Nurse offers some patient release and I particularly enjoyed Harish Patel's Friar Lawrence who above all kept the most genuine connection between the central characters and didn't feel so selfishly insular as those around him.
The anarchy of the production felt juvenile and designed to whip the crowd rather than stir. I don't think I've ever found the play so comic, but the lack of tragic weight reduces our attachment to the central story and the stakes are never high enough to move. Whilst it's enjoyable to watch it quickly becomes overbearing and the continual need to play every line for laughs ultimately feels exhausting and starts to repeat on you like a carb-heavy cheat meal.
What the Press Said...
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Laugh? I nearly wept. I nearly yawned. Those who like their Shakespeare irreverent with a capital “I” will whoop."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Daniel Kramer's raucously silly production for Emma Rice's last season seems calculated to upset the purists."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"An emotionally fierce and fiery Romeo and Juliet."
Paul Taylor for The Independent