Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s 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. I’m 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 Jowl’s 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 Zeffirelli’s. 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 Juliet’s heart. This wasn’t 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. Sawyerr’s turn as an African Nurse in drag was greeted with much hilarity and Jennings’ Tybalt actually drew boos from the crowd. Jane Stanton’s 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. Holt’s Juliet is the weak link in the cast. You can always tell with Shakespeare when someone doesn’t know exactly what their lines mean. Holt’s 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 doesn’t 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 that’s 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.

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

When Romeo falls in love with the daughter of his family's sworn enemy, a chain of events is set in motion that ends in tragedy.

Most Popular See More

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £12.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mary Poppins

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Anything Goes

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Mousetrap

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets