JOYCE MCMILLAN on ROMEO AND JULIET at Dundee Rep, for The Scotsman, 18.7.15.
4 stars ****
DON’T LOOK NOW; but as the new millennium moves through its second decade, something is changing in our relationship with Shakespeare, the great shape-shifting genius of our stage. I’ve noticed it in the Bard In The Botanics summer season now in full swing in Glasgow, and again in this fine touring production of Romeo And Juliet from Shakespeare’s Globe in London; how after decades of implicit apology for the “wordiness” of Shakespeare’s plays, decades of cutting and rewriting and charging at the text as if it represented an obstacle rather than an opportunity, young companies are once again revelling in the sheer fun and ingenuity of Shakespeare’s infinitely elaborate wordplay, and winning a delighted response to it from seriously attentive audiences. It might be a rebellious creative reaction to an ever-more-bland working world of computer-generated business-speak, it might be the influence of the new wave of rap poetry with all its baroque invention, it might be a new kinship with random acts of verbal creativity, in a world of social media where everyone is his or her own publisher. Whatever the cause, though, there’s a joyous, gripping and exhilarating sense of rediscovery in shows like this powerful small-scale staging of Shakespeare’s much-loved romantic tragedy, jointly directed by Globe boss Dominic Dromgoole, and young director Tim Hoare.
The central idea behind the production is that it’s played out by a company of just eight actor-musicians on a simple wooden “booth” stage of the kind touring players of Shakespeare’s day might have used, and that it focusses tightly and precisely on the fast-moving 3-day time-line of Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy. It would be wrong to imply that the show is entirely perfect; like too many British Shakespeare productions, it makes irritating unexamined assumptions about class and voice, with all the “serious” characters deploying their best Benedict Cumberbatch posh accents, and only the comic and character roles – the Geordie servant who can’t read, the vaguely northern Friar, the Scottish Nurse – being allowed the kind of “regional” twang that often lies far closer to Shakespeare’s own likely pronunciation.
The odd reservation aside, though, Dromgoole and Hoare have created a memorably passionate, lucid and enthusiastic show, punctuated by song, and illuminated by a gorgeous leading performance from Cassie Layton as Juliet, with an excellent Samuel Valentine as her youthful, red-haired Romeo. Steven Elder is in storming form as old Capulet, driven into a terrifying patriarchal rage by his daughter’s disobedience. Sarah Higgins is a fine Nurse, as warm as she is slippery and treacherous; the audience revels in the deftness of the doubling, as actors morph instantly from one character to another, with the flick of a cloak. And at the end, the audience cheers this young Globe company to the echo; for the simple act of giving us Shakespeare’s great text back again, clearly, without pretension, and as if it represented not a barrier to be overcome, but a gift to be rejoiced in, and celebrated.
Also at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 4-8 August.