Romeo and Juliet at the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, until Sept 21.
For an entire generation, reared on MTV and cursed by bad perms, Romeo and Juliet is Baz Luhrmann’s stylish, violent take on Shakespeare, complete with swaggering Mafioso, Claire Danes as Juliet as an angel and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo as a knight in shining armour. It’s all soft focus and Sade with guns instead of swords.
If that was Romeo and Juliet for Generation X, this is Romeo and Juliet for Generation Z.
No guns, no swords, just small blades: a chilling echo of a very real problem on the streets of Britain’s cities. Trainers, hoodies and bralets, accessorised by sheathes and holsters. Pulsing dance beats. Perfectly styled hair. If only these post-Millennials were glued to their iPhones, none of this sorry mess would have transpired.
Director Erica Whyman has created such a tense performance that scene changes become useful breaks in which to breathe. A glass slamming down on a tray, a cocky Mercutio prancing about the stage, horror-style background music and the way the young lovers flirt with the edge of a 6-ft cube: it all jangles the nerves and makes for an exciting, terrifying, mesmerising watch.
It wasn’t as dark, as gritty, as violent as the trailer perhaps teased. It was laugh-out-loud funny in places, especially when Nurse (Ishia Benninson), portrayed here as a plain-speaking Yorkshire matriarch, and Mercutio are on stage. Charlotte Josephine as Mercutio – yes, a female Mercutio and brilliantly, humorously, effortlessly done – uses every bit of energy she has, delivering an almost breathless performance that draws all eyes. Josh Finan as Benvolio, with more than a soft spot for his buddy Romeo, is also captivating.
Bally Gill as Romeo is inspired. He has a charming, boyish innocence to accompany the bluster that has you falling for his every word. While Karen Fishwick’s Juliet is every bit the loveable teenage madam we’ve come to expect. She flits from tender to enraged in the blink of an eye. It won’t surprise anyone in that audience when we see a lot more of both actors on stage and screen in the future.
The Stratfordblog verdict
Romeo and Juliet at the RSC will appeal to all ages. It is inventive, energetic and current, perfect for Generation Z to slide into Shakespeare and engaging for the rest of us, who now have a brand new rendering of Romeo and Juliet to add to our favourites.
Romeo and Juliet at the RSC Stratford-upon-Avon runs until September 21. Book tickets here.