Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most youth-filled of all Shakespeare’s plays, with the star-crossed teen lovers and their idealistic yet doomed belief than young love can conquer years of family rivalry. And it is because of this focus on the young that this production – which has Juliet air-guitaring and references to Sleeping Beauty and Harry Potter – makes a bizarre kind of sense.
As Emily unpacks her boxes of toys after moving house, she uncovers a copy of Romeo and Juliet and, believing it to be the quintessential ‘happily ever after’, she dives greedily into the tale. Up pop the characters from the play, with Emily playing a key role in prompting the plot taking up the role of advisor, peace maker and cupid - although she is only listened to when she ‘talks in Shakespeare’. This is Romeo and Juliet from the mind of a romance obsessed seven year old.
It is silly and fun, displaying a mockery for and yet a love of Shakespeare. The enthusiasm and physicality of the actors make it easy to follow the action of the text which is only helped by the amusing asides. The performance is incredibly playful which, initially, does not hint at the darker side of the drama: fight scenes make use of abandoned paint rollers and Emily’s bunkbed becomes Juliet’s balcony
And if one wasn’t certain about the slightly irreverent approach to Shakespeare, the outfits are enough to convince. The costumes are all the height of dressing-up box glamour (Romeo has a touch of the Matt Smiths to his look), a riotous mixture of hoodies layered with blazers, tulle petticoats, aprons and paisley scarves all topped off with a healthy amount of face paint. Juliet has her hair in bunches. This is that sort of show.
Yet it is clever too. The face paint is used to great, and often subtle, effect throughout the play: after killing Tybalt, Romeo scrubs his hands against his red streaked face, his palms coming away looking like they’ve been stained with blood. As products of Emily’s imagination, Romeo and Juliet act just like children themselves, reminding us that this greatest love story of all time is about two teenagers who would, in all likelihood, have spent hours in such self-indulgent goodbyes. What is the balcony scene other than one long ‘you hang up’, ‘no you hang up’?
By using Emily as a focal point, even those familiar with the tale of Romeo and Juliet recapture something of that innocent belief that this time things will turn out ok for the couple; I saw one child wiping away her mother’s tears during the closing moments of the play.
This would be ideal for any who have children who are too mature for a lot of the offerings in the children’s section but still are a bit young to take to take to full on Shakespeare. Although it works as an excellent introduction to Shakespeare, it is also a wonderful way to recapture the feelings one has on encountering the play for the first time. A very different and childish retelling of the story but one that is absolutely worthy of standing amongst Shakespeare adaptations.