Romeo and Juliet

Review - Royal Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet at the Barbican Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

The RSC's annual residency at their former full-time London home the Barbican has so far seen two of three productions from the main house at Stratford-upon-Avon transfer to London. Reviewing Macbeth, my colleague Will Longman called it a "tepid, sometimes dizzying production"; RSC deputy artistic director Erica Whyman's version of Romeo and Juliet now is somewhat warmer and conspicuously more lively and deliberately youthful, but it is also over-strenuous in its attempts to contemporise the play.

Yes, the tragic story of these star-cross'd lovers is an enduringly popular fable, drenched in blood as well as romance, that makes it forever bittersweet. And arriving in London in a week which saw five fatal stabbings here in the space of just six days, there is something undeniably shocking about seeing similar events playing out on the London stage as competing family gangs wrestle for supremacy.

But Whyman's production, staged in modern street clothing, is rather over-insistent in drawing other contemporary resonances: the Capulet's ball, for instance, is staged as a modern rave party.

She has, however, at least grounded the play in an appropriate sense of its youthfulness, with the title roles played by Bally Gill and Karen Fishwick with an ardent sense of authenticity. The production also opens with the professional cast joined by a chorus drawn from young school students.

The play exerts its familiar power in the dread inevitability of the second half - though the contemporary setting also means it doesn't entirely make sense: they would surely simply text each other, so there'd be no misunderstandings that lead towards the tragic conclusion.

Romeo and Juliet is at the Barbican until 19th January

Romeo and Juliet tickets are available now. 

Originally published on

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