A Refreshing Take On A Shakespearean Classic: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Review

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★★★★

It’s the age-old love story between the two warring families, but not quite as you know it. Almost, better? Rippling with northern accents and an array of clothing that doesn’t go amiss in the 21st century, director Nicholai la Barrie breathes a new lease of life into ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The same Shakespearean dialogue is proclaimed to the audience, but with modern elements cleverly woven in, a tour de force of this centuries old tragedy is brought to Manchester.

Performed in the Globe-esque round Royal Exchange Theatre, the mood is already set for Shakespeare. As the lights go down the audience are greeted with the immediately compelling Montagues, Romeo (Conor Glean), Mercutio (David Judge) and Benvolio (Adam Fenton), and are thrust into a contemporary northern-Shakespearean world. Glean and Shalisha James-Davis as the eponymous Romeo and Juliet are masterful in their roles. Flair and humour are in abundance and the chemistry between the two feels effortless. Glean brings a more mischievous side to Romeo’s romantic whimsy and James-Davis a fiery, intelligent spin to Juliet. They rise to the challenge of making love at first sight believable, working with the atmosphere created by the music to amplify the romance.

Simple and effective staging allows the performers to showcase their talents to the full, making impressive use of the space on every level. An absorbing and dynamic performance ensues which captivates in its entirety. At one point the audience are involved in the Capulet party, now featuring a DJ set – it works much better than it sounds – and at the next, the heavens are opening, and the northern rain blankets the stage. All-consuming without being over-bearing, the staging and script interleave into an absorbing masterpiece of theatre.

Throughout the performance, pacing is well-timed. From ominous music, gathering quietly in the background to the brilliance of disco ball lighting, props and staging are drawn together to create a remarkable modernised Shakespearean tale. There are several, slightly lacking scenes that feel underdeveloped at times. Stage combat can feel short-lived and under-done, and occasional contrived moments of acting feel out of place amongst more fluid performances.

Modernising Romeo and Juliet convincingly is no mean feat, and this adaptation has gone a long way to intertwining the Shakespearean language and present-day elements. Innovative staging and powerful acting gives depth and humour to the tragedy as audience interactions keep it from staling. Brilliant performances delight a rapt audience in this fresh take on the star-crossed lovers which is well worth a watch.

Words by Hannah Goldswain


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