Shakespeares classic tale of two warring households in fair Verona comes to the Finchley artsdepot on its national tour. I believe reviewing Shakespeare is as complicated as reviewing stand-up comedy: each individual has his own tastes, his own opinions and comes to the performance with his own understanding of the material. Take me for an example. Im a rogue and peasant slave, not long from a good University with a meaningless English degree in my pocket and iambic pentameter in my head. On the other hand, take the 93 GCSE schoolgirls I watched the play with. I was informed by their teacher that the girls are all at different levels of understanding the text and, for some, this may have been one of the first times they had been to the theatre.You see my dilemma. Love&Madness is a company dedicated to bringing Classical Theatre to a younger and wider audience, presenting great theatre in fresh and accessible productions. In this respect I am more than happy to declare the play a complete success. Director, Owen Horsley (whose work includes Cheek by Jowls Troilus & Cressida and Cymbeline) has used a well-edited text that focuses on the plot without sacrificing too much of character or the beauty of the language. One of the real achievements of this production is the treatment of our young lovers. Romeo and Juliet are not the romantic heroes of the Baz Luhrman film, nor the doomed tragic icons of Zeffirellis. Instead, Jamie Morgan (Romeo) and Sarah-Jane Holt (Juliet) are completely believable young people. They are lusty, anxious, awkward, embarrassed teenagers, as caught up in this romance as you or I were with our first loves. I particularly enjoyed the balcony scene in which it was obvious how much fun Romeo was having in coming up with the verse that wins Juliets heart. This wasnt something he had pre-written: he was trying to be cool to impress her.The other cast members all offer strong performances. They each play multiple and often contradictory characters. Daniel Jennings (Capulet and Tybalt) and Wole Sawyerr (Mercutio, Nurse and Friar Lawrence) approach their roles with good humour, finding what makes them human and making them sympathetic. Sawyerrs turn as an African Nurse in drag was greeted with much hilarity and Jennings Tybalt actually drew boos from the crowd. Jane Stantons Lady Capulet is a move away from the now canonised unfeeling witch and is here as a stern yet genuinely maternal figure.The set is a wonderful minimalist framework that offers lots of opportunities for the actors to perform exciting feats and to use the levels in often-unexpected ways. It opens as a stand in for the Globe, given its similar shape and construction, and ends as a cage and a tomb, imprisoning the young lovers to their fate.Given how much the girls seemed to enjoy this play their very vocal reactions perfectly mimicked the end of Shakespeare in Love I have complete confidence in saying that the groundlings were thoroughly entertained.Unfortunately, I would have been Colin Firth with his seat up in the gallery, and so I have some significant criticisms. Holts Juliet is the weak link in the cast. You can always tell with Shakespeare when someone doesnt know exactly what their lines mean. Holts performance was too rehearsed and too dry to be engaging enough to make the tragedy work. It skews the play: the comedy of the first half is handled well and is always welcome; but the tragic element doesnt quite make it to the finishing line. The set has any number of sightline issues which should really have been resolved by now. Also, parts of the set make no sense whatsoever: a static-snow television sits downstage right and does nothing else. As it so happens I sat directly in front of the television and found myself distracted by it and, later, had a bit of a headache from sitting so close for so long. The lighting cues that are supposed to highlight when the action is moving, or if someone speaks an aside, are made redundant by the fact that the actors are using the levels of the set so well. And the sound design failed to put over the pre-recorded speeches played through a radio-filter. Ultimately, these technical issues make the production feel a little amateur.I was fortunate enough to speak to the girls after the performance and they gave their opinions honestly. We all enjoyed the performance and when I put it to them that this production was a good one to see for their studies, they agreed. And I think thats right. If you have (or, perhaps, are) someone studying the play for GCSE, or want to see an exciting, well-paced production suitable for your children, then this is a great opportunity. Dry, boring academic types need not apply unless they can throw their pretensions out the window in favour of some fun.