Reversed, deconstructed and re-imagined to create a truly remarkable piece of theatre, Juliet & Romeo is the inaugural long-run production at The Chelsea Theatre, following its major renovation and relaunch in early 2020.
A thrilling and uplifting expression of what drama and theatre are all about
Intermission Youth Theatre has taken the Bard’s famous work and swapped the star-crossed lovers’ lines. This is no gimmick, but a clever way of achieving a new perspective on the play. As Mark Rylance, Intermission Youth’s trustee comments, “The gender change is a revelation and works beautifully… This is authentic stuff.” And it’s only the beginning. Giving more immediacy to the story, the setting becomes present-day London in the midst of a global pandemic, reminding us that Shakespeare used his own plague years so creatively. Added to that are issues in the BLM movement and young people engaged in post-code feuds. Next, the text is ripped to pieces and interspersed with newly created material devised by the company that speaks vividly in the contemporary street language of today’s youth.
I didn’t understand it all and it didn't matter. Their language is not my language but then neither is Shakespeare’s. He wrote for the people of his day to understand and identify with his words and message. Intermission Youth Theatre has attempted to do the same, perhaps not for old white men like me, but certainly for Generation Z. I’ve sat through operas in foreign languages and even English, that I didn’t understand or follow, but was carried away by the power and dynamism of the actors and the splendour of the production. The same happened here. With knowledge of the original, and the presence of well-crafted characters, it’s possible to move through the scenes absorbing the visceral energy that abounds throughout this production.
Juliet & Romeo is intensely of the people who have created it through Intermission Youth Theatre (IYT), ‘a unique 10-month programme for 16-25 year olds that develops creativity, builds confidence, increases life skills and encourages self-expression in a safe environment’. The Theatre is part of Intermission Youth, an organisation that was created to ‘transform the lives of disadvantaged young people’. It’s attracted support from around the world. This Juliet & Romeo class enjoyed the thrill of masterclasses from Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Kaluuya, Andrew Garfield and David Oyelowo in addition to the benefits of the long-standing association with the RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe.
Outstanding individual performances were manifold, but in the spirit of this production it's perhaps best to see it as a large-cast ensemble piece, with a skillful lighting design by Julian McCready. Darren Raymond, who has been shortlisted for the 2021 National Diversity Awards, re-imagined and directed the play that makes extensive use of a chorus, members of which casually occupy spaces around the grey-toned set of sturdy boxes that are moved to create different levels and scenes. They wear matching hoodies and joggers all from the costume and set designs by Delyth Evans. To give maximum opportunity to the youngsters the play is double cast: the leads of one night are the chorus of another night.
Juliet & Romeo is much more than just another production. It’s a thrilling and uplifting expression of what drama and theatre are all about. Here we have an ethnically diverse group of young people drawing inspiration from the nation’s greatest playwright to create a work that resonates with meaning for them and society today. As Shakespeare said, “Youth is hot and bold”, which pretty much sums up this production.