A 75-minute performance of Romeo & Juliet is hardly the stuff that fills jaded reviewers with optimism. Not in the penultimate days of the Fringe anyway, by which point they’ve already been assailed by a dozen other whacky adaptations of the bard’s most enduring tragedy.
While it would be wrong to pre-judge Hand Stitched Theatre Company’s version of Romeo & Juliet, does the world really need another contemporary adaption of this populist play? Shakespeare’s blockbuster has become a fall-back for theatre companies struggling for inspiration. Is your original production failing to sparkle with the opening night looming? Ditch it at the last minute in favour of Romeo & Juliet. You needn’t even bother with all the outfits and set changes – just pull a couple of benches together, get the cast to wear their civvies and call it a ‘contemporary production’, which as everyone knows, is a polite way of saying ‘we couldn’t be bothered dressing up.’
Romeo & Juliet is a fail-safe; a universal play that everyone can call upon in their hour of need. Unsure which show to attend with a first date? Choose R & J. Need to exorcise all memory of the stand-up show you just endured? Go watch some R & J. Just seen Romeo & Juliet and aren’t sure what to catch next? Go and see R & J – the same one, or a different one, or a contemporary adaptation of the one you just watched.
Romeo & Juliet is a panacea for all mankind’s ills; it is the Elastoplast whose magical healing properties can banish the pain of skinned knees and broken hearts. Problems in the Middle East? Get the UN to fund a joint Israeli-Palestinian production of R & J. If this ‘contemporary production’ – complete with star-crossed lovers from opposing sides of the Gaza Strip – fails to win hearts and minds, there truly is no hope for humanity.
Of course, none of these bugbears is the fault of Hand Stitched Theatre Company: they just want to perform their contemporary adaption of Romeo & Juliet and be judged solely on its merits. Is that too much to ask? Of course not. So here’s what you need to know about Hand Stitched Theatre Company’s ultimate performance of Romeo & Juliet, crammed into the ultimate sentence of this writer’s penultimate review: the cast deliver an accomplished performance of this Shakespearean staple, with Mercutio and The Nurse particularly convincing, which is more than can be said for the masked ball, which stretches the acceptable definition of ‘contemporary’, what with its Bee Gees soundtrack that brings out the bouffant in Lord Capulet’s 70s perm – a moment that seems curiously at odds with the remainder of this otherwise traditional production - delivered capably yet with an inescapable sense that we’ve all been here before, ending yet another Fringe with yet another performance of an iconic play that by any other name would sound as sweet: wherefore art thou Romeo & Juliet?