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Theatre Review: Romeo and Juliet ****

Scott Purvis reviews a new production of the classic play that 'successfully finds the humour and the horror of Shakespeare's bloody tale'.

The Montagues and the Capulets have been rattling rapiers at each other for centuries. But whilst the tights and the codpieces might have been lost, the relevance of its themes are still razor sharp, especially in a month when newspapers scream of how London counts its knife crime victims daily.

Set in a grimy city of a thousand different accents, this adaptation explores, as countless others have, the idea of urban gang warfare - in hoodies and Hackney accents, it strikes at the play's timeless ideas of how rivalries and revenges lead to pointless destruction. Like a flower growing in a rubbish dump, a funny, sweet and adorably directed romance blossoms between the two eponymous lovers before it is, of course, crushed as easily as a rose. This isn't a production of gimmicks - it finds the truth of the human experience simply and let's it burn, softly, until every character is engulfed in flames.

The cast and director breathe new life into this all-too familiar story. Bally Gill's Romeo finds genuine humour in the role of the lovesick-teen-turned-avenging-angel, a physical performance which leaves the audience in no doubt why Juliet fell in love with him. As Juliet, Glasgow girl Karen Fishwick warms the stage with youth, culminating in a -spoiler alert- ice-cold suicide soliloquy. The supporting cast are excellent, but it is Ishia Bennison who earns the greatest applause: her nuanced and hilarious performance as Juliet's northern Nurse lightens the doom, the kind of bawdy woman who'd tell you a dirty joke in the queue for Blackpool Tower.

In terms of staging, there's not a great deal to discuss, spare a few interesting moments of physical theatre. Despite the prologue's promise of a piece lasting "two hours", this production runs for two hours and forty-five minutes, and a bit more variety in Tom Piper's simple staging would have been more engaging, especially as the lights dim and the mood darkens in the middle-acts. Does it matter? Not really. The pace was as quick as Romeo and Juliet's wedding and Erica Whyman's sharp, fresh direction keep the night moving, fatalistically, towards its tragic end.

The RSC has a responsibility to protect the truths of the Bard's texts for modern audiences, and this is a production which successfully finds the humour and the horror of Shakespeare's bloody tale of the ill-fated lovers perfectly.

Romeo and Juliet runs at the Royal Theatre in Glasgow until March 23rd.

Tags: theatre

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