JOYCE MCMILLAN on ROMEO AND JULIET at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 24.6.09
4 stars ****
HOWEVER HIGH IT stands in the catalogue of world drama, Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet is never an easy play. If tragedy is about the inevitable destruction of a fatally flawed hero or heroine, then Shakespeare’s most famous doomed romance is hardly a tragedy; yet precisely because its ending seems like nothing but an unhappy accident, its grim conclusion can seem unbearably, almost pointlessly, sad.
What’s interesting about this brief 40-minute version of the play, created as a rousing finale to this spring’s astonishing 21-show lunchtime season at Oran Mor, is that it tackles this narrative ambiguity head-on, and with a creativity and insight that puts many full-length productions to shame. In adapting the text, Mary McCluskey boldly slices the story into vivid, familiar chunks of monologue and dialogue, and rearranges them in a fragmented flashback structure; so that the action begins with the double tragedy at the Capulets’ tomb, and every line of the earlier poetry – comic, romantic, lyrical – becomes saturated with a sense of the doom to come.
In this dark version of the play, directed and designed with impressive flair by Kenny Miller, Sally Reid turns in a heartrending performance as a haunted, hopeful but bewildered Juliet, ambushed by grief at the height of her carefree youth. And Julie Austin, as the friendly Nurse/Friar, becomes a kind of familiar devil; taunting poor Juliet with the possibility of happiness, but all the while leading her on towards that grim moment in the tomb, and her heartbreaking, avoidable death.