Director Kimberley Sykes has decided to intensify her production of Romeo & Juliet by running it at 110 minutes without an interval. I’m afraid the only intense feeling you’re likely to have is a desperate need for a wee.
It’s always exciting to see directors try to answer problematic aspects of Shakespeare’s texts with innovative choices, and the breakneck speed of events in Verona can make the play seem a bit silly. They’re teenagers! They don’t even know each other! Marriage is a big commitment! Sykes wants to show that it’s the impulsive nature of the decisions made by these star-crossed lovers that lead to their tragic deaths – if they slowed down and thought about it, it might all turn out differently.
Like all R&Js, it only lands if we truly believe the pair want to rip each other’s clothes off. Unfortunately, there’s so little chemistry between leads Isabel Adomakoh Young and Joel MacCormack, I worry they’d struggle to make small talk with one another if they were stuck in a lift. It’s not helped by the fact that significant moments get swallowed up by Naomi Dawson’s beast of a set, a big metal scaffolding structure that resembles the back of a Glastonbury stage. The moment the pair fall in love at the Capulet’s party is completely overshadowed by the rest of the cast doing some sort of vodka advert-esque dance routine on it behind them, and Juliet has to holler some of her big speeches as if she’s trapped at the top of a multi-storey car park.
When it all starts to kick off between Mercutio, Romeo and Tybalt, there’s a glimpse of the white-knuckle ride we were promised. But Romeo’s gang seem more like they’d flush his head down a toilet than die in a street fight for him; there’s no urgency to MacCormack’s sad indie Romeo. Adomakoh Young is better as Juliet, conveying how her passion turns to anxiety as events begin to spiral, delivering her speech about Romeo’s banishment as though gripped by a panic attack. Cavan Clarke also stands out as Mercutio, bringing dynamism and humour, and Peter Hamilton Dyer channels Monty Don as the Friar, a calm botany enthusiast who seems slightly above it all.
After Mercutio’s death, his body rises, a portentous sign that the characters will be haunted by what they do; it’s a good image, until it gets overused. Other aspects – two ominously hanging bags of sand, signifying... something, I guess – are too fiddly and slow things down. It’s a shame, because Sykes has lots of intriguing and original ideas. She’s mined the text and drawn out the fact that the nurse’s mention of an earthquake may be a signifier of a catastrophe that has traumatised each of the characters, but it never feels tangible in any of the performances. Instead of sex and danger, we’re left with a plague on all our bladders.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, to July 24, openairtheatre.com