Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Stage-to-screen review: Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare's Globe / Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank)

I mentioned recently that after 2020's overload of Romeo and Juliets failed to materialise for obvious reasons, it was due to turn up in 2021 in largely digital form. But before a rather odd-looking green screen affair and the National's repurposing of the Lyttelton into a TV studio turn up, there's a version already available on YouTube, and free to view (as ever, donations are encouraged,) until the end of next month. Last year I had my first experience of the Globe's Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank strand of shows for schools with the 2020 production of Macbeth, and now for their 2019 offering, and a 90-minute edit can't be a bad call for a play I tend to lose my patience with, can it? Certainly playing the story at speed can only accentuate the way Romeo (Nathan Welsh) and Juliet (Charlotte Beaumont) decide they're in love with each other having barely met.

The children of grand Verona families who've headed rival factions for generations, their whirlwind romance and marriage has to be kept a secret, despite Friar Laurence's (Jeff Alexander) hopes that this could be the thing to finally end the feud once and for all. But the fact that they keep it secret means Juliet's family start planning a new marriage for her, and her convoluted plan to get out of it leads to grisly results.

Michael Oakley's production is efficient and entertaining enough but I was certainly aware of it feeling rushed to get everything done in just over half the time the play usually takes - in the first half at least. In the second half it does vindicate what I always grumble about in the play, namely that everything between Romeo and Juliet's parting and their tragic reunion feels dragged out: Here a hell of a lot of that second half is excised, to little real detriment to the story. Still, the rush to get through the plot does leave little room for flourished to make the production stand out.

I did like the way Alex Lowde's design reflected the play's morbid obsession - the title characters opening the show by jumping out of what will turn out to be their grave, the crosses that form the tombstones stay onstage throughout as crucifixes in the Friar's cell. And there's generally good performances, with Ayoola Smart's gender-flipped Tybalt memorable, Debbie Chazen's Nurse much too interested in a couple of teenagers' sex lives, and Ned Derrington's Mercutio not doing much to change my mind that he's got a nerve blaming his death on both their houses when he bloody well started the fight. It's not quite a wild and irreverent romp through the play but it succeeds in its main purpose to bring a GCSE Shakespeare text to life for kids who might be struggling to see what the fuss is about.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is available until the 31st of March on Shakespeare's Globe's YouTube channel.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz

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