Tragic Beauty

2 March 2008

Romeo and Juliet, ADC Theatre, 26 Feb – 1 March, 19:45

Four Stars

Reviewer Edward Rowett

This week the Swan Theatre Company brings Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy to the ADC in blockbuster form. With a large cast and a gorgeous set, Rob Icke’s production is one of almost professional standards, which honours its commitment to strip the play back to its basic form; there are no radical reinterpretations here, rather a straightforward performance of a classic text.

The most striking feature is the vigour Icke brings to the text; no matter how well we know the story, everything here seems immediate and vital. One particularly successful set piece has the stage plunged into darkness, while Mercutio and friends crash around with torches, allowing us to share the excitement and exuberance of their daring trip to the Capulet party. Another highlight is the relocation of the end of Act 1 to the courtyard of the Capulet’s house; we never see the party, just the occasional overspill of revellers, and an endless stream of waiters pouring in and out. The most notable consequence is that Romeo and Juliet’s first sight of each other is not a glimpse across a crowded dance floor, but rather a face to face encounter in an empty courtyard. It is a beautifully effective moment, the two young lovers struck dumb by the sight of one another.

Alastair Roberts gives us an unexpectedly awkward Romeo, who always seems slightly ill at ease with himself and those around him. It is a unusual, but highly effective portrayal, presenting Romeo as an gauche teenager overwhelmed by the first throes of love. Lizzie Crarer is also an excellent Juliet, feisty at first, but gradually subdued by the forces conspiring against her.

The band of Montagues is the production’s strongest suit, sharing a wonderfully blokeish chemistry. Oli Robinson is excellent as Benvolio, and Will Featherstone steals the show as Mercutio. A ball of crude, mad energy (he wrings every drop of filth from his lines), his desperate desire to win his best friend back from the encroaching passions of love is palpable, in spite of all his machismo, and his perfectly judged death is arguably the

production’s most powerful moment.

The show is not flawless; there are a few weak links in the cast, and it can be only be hoped that the moving bed can be repaired, as the troupe ofstage hands carrying it on and off spoilt the mood a little. These are minor quibbles, however, in what is an excellent and highly recommended production.