Romeo and Juliet – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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Romeo and Juliet – Review

Bradford Alhambra, February 2019

by Sandra Callard

The Royal Shakespeare Company, seen all too rarely in the Provinces, is performing Romeo and Juliet at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. Yorkshire lovers of The Bard will gather in droves for the chance to see the RSC perform so close to home – but they will witness a Romeo and Juliet like no other. Here, women play roles written for men, actors’ nationalities cover the world, accents are profuse and unexpectedly clear, costumes are non-existent and the scenery is a revolving metal box.

Not another bizarre and baffling update of a superb and treasured piece of English heritage, you may say (and we have seen many). Thankfully, no. This production is an enlightening look at ourselves, and both a historical and a contemporary punch between the eyes. This is a world that Shakespeare saw at first-hand and a world that we also, unfortunately, can recognise. Young love, then as now, will always be an overpowering emotion, but the easy killings and knife crimes of 16th century London are being replicated now in the 21st century capital – and the affinity is frightening and real.

romeo and juliet review bradford alhambra february 2019 rsc theatre

“Hard and aggressive”

Erica Whyman’s deft and tight direction of an evergreen play stands head and shoulders above many less daring directors, and her use of women in men’s roles is so relevant today that it never jars, and falls into place with surprising ease.

Charlotte Josephine’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s male friend Mercutio, is compelling and fascinating. She is neither a Capulet nor a Montague, so is not worried whose feathers she ruffles, but is fiercely loyal to Romeo. She is hard and aggressive and carries a knife, which appears to be normal for most of the men, and she skilfully taunts others with it for her own amusement. Josephine is totally at home in the male role, and dominates the stage confidently.

romeo and juliet review bradford alhambra february 2019 rsc

“Wonderful and unexpected”

We have an Asian Romeo in Bally Gill and a Scottish Juliet in Karen Fishwick. Neither seem at odds in their roles and their instant love is quite beautiful and recognisably modern. Gill is a remarkably handsome young man, and is outstanding as his emotions reel between love, joy, fear and despair. Fishwick’s Juliet is a thoroughly modern girl, daring to defy her formidable father, refuse an arranged marriage and start a new life. She is no shrinking violet to Romeo’s advances and actively encourages him in his pursuit of her. A very modern Juliet who would slip easily into a contemporary landscape.

The Nurse has always been of great importance in the plot of Romeo and Juliet, as she helps and encourages the lovers, but there has never been a Nurse as Ishia Bennison plays her. This Nurse is a late-middle-age woman, experienced in men – or maybe even wishing she was – a blowsy character who uses comic sexual innuendos to great effect. Primarily aimed at men, she also casts asides to her ward, which causes Juliet great amusement and suggests that she is quite au fait with the subject. A wonderful and unexpected character who adds humour and pathos to every scene she inhabits.

romeo and juliet review bradford alhambra february 2019 rsc shakespeare

“Vibrant”

This is a vibrant and unusual production of the famous play. It takes you back five centuries, then whisks you forward to the present time as anomalies are changed to recognisable certainties, and time is no more. Just as Shakespeare used young men to play women, Erica Whyman has used the apposite effect to shake off ingrained attitudes towards women, and has produced a play which upholds Shakespeare’s sentiments whilst bringing it with a cheer and a sigh into the 21st century.

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