From a director who is know for his hi-tech productions, Rupert Goold’s RSC production of Romeo and Juliet is strangely traditional. Well traditional with a twist. For this is a Romeo and Juliet for our times, while the ensemble are in period dress our lead protaganists are in modern dress, Romeo on a guided tour to fair Verona and Juliet clad in jeans and Converse trainers.
It’s a concept that works on the whole, although extending the concept to a modern dress ending does loose some of the emotional potential of the piece.
Sam Troughton’s Romeo and Mariah Gale’s Juliet genuinely convince that they have fallen deeply in love; Troughton giving a masterclass in Shakespearean delivery, while Gale convinces as the adolescent torn between her first love and her sense of duty to her parents.
Given the RSC pedigree, supporting roles are surprisingly more of a hit and miss affair. Noma Dumezweni’s Nurse and JonJo O’Neill’s Mercutio work well but others such as Forbes Masson’s Friar have projection issues that renders many of their lines lost in the recreation of Stratford Courtyard auditorium in the Roundhouse.
Perhaps some of the problem lays in Goold’s staging, which despite the thrust staging plays large sections of the action to the front of the stage, leaving two thirds of the audience watching the back of the actors.
When the action makes full use of the stage it is thrilling, complete with smoke and jets of flame but again sightline issues from the sides makes this a production never fully at home in the thrust stage format.
It’s a shame the blocking detracts as overall this is a thrilling Romeo and Juliet, balancing tragedy and comedy and showcasing two outstanding central performances.
Now that the RSC has adopted the Courtyard format into it’s sparkling new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford here’s hoping that directors come to grip with the challenges of an audience on three sides and block future shows with all sides in mind and not just those ‘head on’.
Photo: Oliver Ryan and Sam Troughton in Romeo And Juliet. Photo by Ellie Kurttz