Thursday, November 09, 2017

Romeo & Juliet – like a tragic episode of Married at First Sight (C21 Theatre at the Lyric)

C21 Theatre have created a very European version of Romeo & Juliet, set in the balmy city of Verona. It plays out like a rather catastrophic episode of Married at First Sight.

The Montagues and the Capulets are feuding enemies. So it should be no surprise that love blossoms across the barricades and the dark and handsomely Oirish Romeo from the house of Monague falls in love with the flaxen beauty Juliet from the house of Capulet.

A friar is on hand to marry them in secret, though before the day is out Romeo has killed his new wife’s cousin, sending her household into a spiral of grief that can only be broken by her “careful” and frankly abusive father arranging her marriage to Count Paris.

The friar’s remedy for these unwanted repeat nuptials is doomed by an unreliable postal service – and also by the friar’s simple failure to simply send Romeo a text message – and a “brace of kinsmen” are lost in the last few minutes of this Shakespearean tragedy, though the total body count falls a little short of the original text’s full complement.

As with every annual Shakespearean production by C21 Theatre, this touring production uses the simplest of sets and a minimum of props. Director Arthur Webb has once again cut the script down to a school-friendly 80 minutes, keeping all the key scenes and characters (shared out across just six actors), improving the flow by moving parts of the prologue to the end, and allowing devices like mobile phone calls to let the audience follow just one side of a conversation.

With everything pared down, there is little to distract from the words and the movement. Hand gestures, a nod of the head, a football and an apple are all used to add a touch of mirth to proceedings. The modern props lift the spirits of William Shakespeare’s text. Background music is used sparingly though at times competes with the dialogue (certainly up in the back seats nearer the roof-mounted speakers).

Cailum Carragher, who plays Mercutio (Romeo’s best friend) as well as other minor characters, frequently steals the show with his infectious energy and physicality. The fight scenes and knife sequences are pretty fast and furious, adding drama.

Juliet is played by Julie Lamberton and is modelled on Joss Stone: all barefoot and boho-chic. Turtlenecked Romeo (Patrick Quinn) is suave, if a little under-dressed, at his wedding. Handy with a knife he’s also gently affectionate with his sweetheart. I can’t imagine two more star-crossed doe-eyed lovers being cast as the protagonists. Their famous balcony speech takes place on the raised walkway at the back of the stage, and is fresh in its delivery after their accelerated courtship.

Brendan Quinn’s Friar Laurence has a touch of Bob Geldof in his drawl, while Mary Frances Doherty (last seen on stage as Michelle O’Neill) plays Juliet’s long time attendant and confidante with a definite Italian twang. While ‘Nurse’ could win a medal for her wailing and panicking, she has the measure of Romeo and can boss him around when necessary. Thomas Martin plays Benvolio among other roles.

C21 Theatre have produced a sweet version of a classic play. “Wedded to calamity”, the union of a Montague and a Capulet has plenty of passion but it can only halt a feud after precious blood is spilt.

Romeo & Juliet continues its run in the Lyric Theatre until Saturday 11 November.

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