We all know Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers of Verona. Almeida Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Rebecca Frecknall, however, is a new perspective to this classic, while also being a homage to the previous versions that preceded it. Having known the story allowed me to look at this production with a fresh pair of eyes and focus on what this creative team added to the classic story rather than focusing on the plot.
The biggest addition is the movement and dance that captivates the audience. You could see the influence of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet both in the style and the use of the music from the ballet. Both the dance choreography and the fight choreography by Jonathan Holby are not only impressive but heighten the emotions in scenes.
The cast also added extra personalities to the characters making them more interesting and even at times more familiar, as they became more similar to people around us. Especially Isis Hainsworth’s Juliet defied the image of Juliet in my head and made her into a more energetic, curious, young woman.
The time this production is set is a little confusing. While the language is that of Shakespeare’s, the costume and gestures of the characters place them in other periods. While for some pieces of clothing, I would classify them as modern, we would not come across most of the complete outfits on the street. It felt like the clothing of Shakespearean times and the costumes from Baz Luhrmann’s 1996’s film, Romeo + Juliet were put into a mixer, then randomly distributed to the cast. The contrast between the costume choices and the language seems to be inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s version. However, the stage production makes it harder to place it in a time and place than film.
The stage and lighting design are gorgeous. From the beginning of the play, you are hooked. The use of the wall that becomes the stage and the projection of the famous beginning words of Romeo and Juliet is new and intrigues the audience about what they are about to see. The candles on the back wall and lining the stage in the final scene are mesmerising. The presence of characters on stage who are not within the scene also added depth to the performance with the feeling of the eyes of their family and society always being on them, yet still being in the dark about what was really happening.
While everything in this production was cleverly planned, I could not understand the purpose of half of the final scene being taken out. The final dialogues between Capulet, Montague and the Prince give the main message of the play. While the death of the couple is conclusive enough, I believe the later part should have been kept, especially considering the majority of the play was true to Shakespeare’s.
Overall, I believe this is an excellent production that every theatre fan should see. They will perform at Almeida Theatre for another month until 29 July. Book your tickets here.