Romeo and Juliet – Review – Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York
By Roger Crow, July 2018
Bloke walks into a pub wearing a ruff. The barman says: “Oi. You’re bard!” Shakespeare: the focus of a thousand gags, spoofs, and interpretations.
Here’s another one. ‘Roger Crow. Roger Crow. Wherefore art thou Roger Crow?’
Well, glad you asked. I’m at Clifford’s Tower car park, York. Not far from where I usually park when I go to the theatre, except on this beautiful night, I’ve had to leave the car a mile away because my usual spot has been diminished by a hugely impressive pop-up theatre. Kudos to any company that can create such a stunning mini-village. There’s a wealth of stalls selling beers, wines, snacks, sweet treats and more.
I thought this was going to be a simple night out at the theatre, but it’s on a par with Secret Cinema. A post-midsummer night’s dream of an experience.
The theatre itself is gobsmacking, obviously reminiscent of The Globe. A multi-levelled array of scaffolding, seating and stage. And tonight’s production, as you’ll have guessed, is Romeo and Juliet.
A play of two halves you might say. A feud between two noble families, and no penalty shoot outs. Yes, while England’s fate plays out on that Russian stage, this is the perfect diversion for World Cup widows and widowers.
The plot (for newcomers and those that skipped it in English Lit): when Romeo Montague and the Capulets’ only daughter Juliet, fall for one another, they know that their love is forbidden. Soon after marrying in secret, another brawl between the warring sides erupts on the streets, and in revenge for the slaying of his friend, Romeo kills Tybalt, a Capulet cousin, and is exiled. The rest, as I’m sure you know, does not end well.
It’s an epic production with a terrific cast. Okay, at times some of the dialogue gets lost, but the pros far outweigh the cons. Shanaya Rafaat’s Mercutio is outstanding; a gloriously spirited performance. The actress lights up the stage every time she’s on. Reminiscent of the magnificent Phoebe Waller-Bridge, I’d quite happily watch a spin-off with just her.
But this is the original play in all its glory and no doubt painfully faithful to the original text. To my amazement I’ve never seen it performed anywhere in the world, let alone in a glorious open air theatre on my doorstep.
As the sun sets and moths attempt to steal the limelight, the most famous tale of star cross’d lovers plays out. Alexander Vlahos’s Romeo is engaging enough, all swagger, charisma and heart-rending angst. However, Alexandra Dowling’s Juliet is phenomenal, never putting a foot wrong with that wealth of verbal gymnastics.
“Pleasure to behold”
A week after seeing son Richard Fleeshman in The Last Ship at York Theatre Royal, dad David is on stage, here giving a fine turn as Friar Laurence.
The costumes are gorgeous. A fifties homage no doubt as a nod to West Side Story, one of the most obvious Romeo-inspired tales. However, at times the look feels more like Anthony Minghella’s film version of The Talented Mr Ripley.
Because of my obsession with Hot Fuzz, I also expect a truncated production with that frantic nod to Baz Luhrmann’s phenomenal Leo Di Caprio movie.
That’s the trouble with this play. It’s been so exhaustively revisited, reimagined, ripped off and sent up since the 16th century, for some the actual story has been lost. So when those iconic scenes arrive in context, it’s a pleasure to behold.
“Night I’ll never forget”
Okay, it could have done with a little tightening up. The EastEnders-style shouty father is more annoying than entertaining at times. (I’m of that age where shouty actors doth cut no mustard, though I can understand the need to play to the back of the theatre).
I’ve no idea if head microphones were used, but it didn’t sound like it, probably in the need for authenticity. So, at the risk of incurring a plague upon my house, it’s a little too long, and a little too shouty in places, but as unique experiences go, it’s a night I’ll never forget.
And the good news is, the theatre is in town until September so there’s plenty of chances to catch other productions such as Macbeth and Richard III. (A version of the latter set in a converted car park. Talk about apt).
A terrific experience, and for as long as the weather stays glorious, it should be unmissable. Highly recommended.
images: Ant Robling