Review: BME Shakespeare ‘Romeo x Juliet’

Max Sutton 9 March 2019
Image Credit: BME Shakespeare: Romeo x Juliet

★★★

A stellar first half was let down somewhat by a second half in which less attention seemed to be paid to ensuring a continually gripping performance, in this notoriously genre-splitting play.

Coming into Queens’ Fitzpatrick Hall to a thumping soundtrack and actors lounging on stage in tracksuits immediately threw you into the context of this performance of Romeo x Juliet, which was strongly maintained by evocative urban set design and convincingly gripping fight choreography as the play began. The costumes of the characters were perfectly chosen and only added to this impression.

The gender reversals of Lord and Lady Capulet and the single mother Montague were incredibly effective, as was the casting of Drew Chateau and Makeda Brown as Mercutio and Benvolio – this re-contextualised the misogynistic elements of some of the play’s dialogue, drawing attention to the opinions without perpetuating them.

In addition to the compelling dynamic created by Drew and Makeda, the performers who made themselves particularly visible were Nusrath Tapadar and Yolanda Lam. The former gave a visceral, dangerous, and convincingly threatening performance as Tybalt, while the latter showed impressive range in her shift from the light relief ‘clown’ role of Peter to the more serious role of Montague.

Zara Ramtohul-Akbar’s interestingly infantilised Juliet emphasised her youth, an oft-avoided element of the play, and added an extra element in the balcony scene, which was done particular justice by the cast.

Having said this, the treatment of the notoriously tricky balance of tragi-comedy in Romeo and Juliet was sometimes just wide of the mark. While the audience laughter and jovial atmosphere was highly engaging in the first half of the play, breaking down expectations and improving immersion, it clashed with the more serious tone of the second half. In addition, the direction didn’t always give focus where needed, allowing the audience to be distracted somewhat from the speaking performers, as in the party scene.

Overall, while the tragedy occasionally felt a little routine and even out of place amid the comic strength of the performers, BME Shakespeare: Romeo x Juliet created a compelling interplay of similarity and difference, drawing attention to the youth of the characters and the original, sometimes fun, sometimes violent, themes of the play, dextrously situating it in a modern context.