Romeo and Juliet

Take a Shakespeare play and strip it of all of the aspects that make it a timeless sensation. Cut up the script, stick it back together again and hope for the best when you sell it back to the audience under the same title as the original. As the Beaconsfield Players’ performance of Romeo and Juliet reveals, doing a celebrated text such injustice is more plagiaristic and infuriating than interpretative and creative.

If this is meant to be a play about female sexual empowerment, it really misses the mark, especially when music comes on and the word “hoe” starts booming out.

It’s the story of Romeo and Juliet but stripped of the central Montague versus Capulet intrigue. The premise is original and exciting: set in Bethnal Green, the action moves from one dingy flat to another, following the lives of the friar (recast as a chief drug dealer) and his group of pill-popping, powder-snorting friends. The Beaconsfield Players take their contemporary urban interpretation a step further than even Baz Luhrmann dared to.

Romeo is cast as a woman and Rosa Grace Robson carries the role professionally. She is struck by Juliet’s beauty and wit and proceeds to pursue her love. This is an original idea that places the show in the midst of key contemporary social issues. However, my keen interest in this ambitious decision ends up self-destructing when the play’s moral compass disappears and it becomes difficult to agree with the pair’s love. Both Romeo and Juliet are in relationships when they meet and proceed to cheat on their respective partners. From the original tragic tale of passionate love hindered by familial conflict, we are given a scenario of infidelity that it is difficult to get emotionally involved in.

Romeo’s friends egg her on in seducing Juliet, making every character in the play seem somewhat depraved and unamiable. This destroys all sympathetic feeling you may have had for the characters and all interest in the play quickly vanishes. If this is meant to be a play about female sexual empowerment, it really misses the mark, especially when music comes on and the word “hoe” starts booming out.

All in all, despite creative, admirable ambitions and a few well-directed, visually effective scenes, this adaptation is far too contrived. The Beaconsfield Players try to take the play places that it simply will not go. By attempting to stick to the original text as much as possible, it is reworked in odd ways, and many scenes or snippets of scenes take place with no dialogue whatsoever. Not for artistic effect, but because, clearly, none of the original lines could be decontextualised and adapted to fit the scene. Except, of course, for the word “fuck” which script adaptors Matilda Wnek and Claudia Grigg-Edo have had no problem incorporating.

The troupe use the title of Romeo and Juliet to draw in a crowd of Shakespeare enthusiasts who find themselves faced with a plotless, undramatic version of the story wherein the ‘star-crossed lovers’ and their posse are the fatal victims of their own stupidity.  

Reviews by Maria Hagan

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The Blurb

It's 2014. There's a new pill on the streets. Ask the Friar. Mercutio wants to try it. Juliet's Bethnal Green BBQ: Rosalind and three other friends attending. What lady is that? She speaks. The Friar, a drug-dealer, commands authority from the periphery. Rosalind's compartmentalised brand of seduction is a lingering temptation. Mercutio lives in half-hour highs and wants his mate back. Shakespeare's timeless story is reimagined in the atomised modern world of urban youth culture. No Montagues, no Capulets. Love sabotaged by modern whims.

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