Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank: Romeo and Juliet Is An Exciting, Visceral Take On A Romantic Classic: Review

Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank Romeo and Juliet
Image credit: David Jensen


The company of Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank: Romeo and Juliet want you to know it isn’t a run-of-the-mill Shakespeare production. There’s graffiti on the walls of Shakespeare’s Globe, a mini skatepark in the centre of the yard, murals to victims of knife crime, and the beginning of the play is signified by a masked hoodlum lurking through the audience on a BMX. Knife crime is not something you’d expect to be so intricately woven into Shakespeare’s most iconic love story. However, when watching a fast-paced, 90-minute adaption set in modern day, it is in fact one of the play’s most integral themes.

Adapting one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays for a younger, modern day audience is arguably a challenge, but theatre director Lucy Cuthbertson did so with exceptional grace. At a tight 90-minute runtime (the original being over 2 hours), this adaption clearly intends to fully engage its audience and maintain their attention until the tragic end. Not only do the actors constantly interact with audience members, the language maintains its Shakespearean integrity whilst being engaging for a modern audience. It is spoken as if it were written today, and delivered by an exceptionally charismatic cast.

The titular characters are played by Hayden Mampasi and Felixe Forde, respectively, whose chemistry makes them the most easily likeable characters in a cast of intimidating-looking supporting characters. One of the play’s highlights is the balcony scene, where Mampasi stands amid the audience, addressing a smitten Forde leaning out over the Globe’s balcony. Ashley Byam’s performance as Mercutio is also a highlight: a combination of the loveable flamboyance of Ncuti Gatwa’s Eric from Netflix’s Sex Education and Harold Perrineau’s own Mercutio from Baz Luhrmann’s endearing 1996 adaption Romeo + Juliet.

The action on stage is backed by a trio of percussionists on the back of the stage balcony (Rosie Bergonzi, Zands Duggan and Dave Price), notably so in the Montague and Capulet party scene. The big band-style drumming and percussion makes some scenes in the play almost like a musical—the entire cast dancing in sequence which resulted in a rapturous applause. One dance sequence in particular is presented as a hallucination after Juliet drinks the potion. The cast comes out dressed as if they were in Mamma Mia! and Simeon Desvignes’ Paris stripped down in the most out-of-pocket scene I’ve seen in a Shakespeare play. I understood the appeal intended for a younger audience, but it made me feel as if it took that appeal a little too seriously, which compromised the tone of the scene.

Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank: Romeo and Juliet promises a great introduction to Shakespeare for younger audiences, which it delivers. The performances are engaging enough to keep anyone invested even when the action is minimal and it is simply two characters having a conversation. The choice to set the play in modern South London makes it not only easily accessible for today’s younger audience, but also reminds us how resonant its messages still are today. It uses its intricate plot about love spawning from hate to deliver poignant messages about knife crime and gang violence. It is here where this adaption truly shines, and yet again showed why Shakespeare’s work will remain indefinitely exceptional.

Words by Gareth Griffiths

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