Curious Pheasant Theatre reinvents the Bard’s most famous tale of ‘star-cross’d’ lovers in a bare-bones, twisted production that will have purists running for shelter and audiences that lack their reverential devotion to every word enjoying a butchered but exhilarating rendition of the text.
An uplifting and intoxicating piece of theatre
For this Romeo and Juliet the ‘two houses’ are now rival rugby teams and the eponymous romantics two boys. The traditional cast is reduced to just six actors who conveniently have their names written on the backs of their jerseys in true sporting fashion. They each possess considerable strengths in the characterisation of their roles.
Weaknesses could be found in places, but this production feels concerned with overall effect rather than detail. It’s ultimately an ensemble piece, which makes it invidious and tedious to go into individual performances. Troy Chessman (Romeo), Sam Prentice (Juliet), Oveis Rezazadeh (Mercutio), Becky Mills (Benvolio and Director), Will Bunting (Tybalt) and Daniel Harris (Capulet) make up the team and they all perform well.
The play kicks off with a striking presentation of the prologue divided between the cast, with strident music interspersing the lines. Inevitably, given the new context of the play, physical theatre is deployed throughout to heighten the rivalry and expose the conflict. The story moves quickly and a surprise new ending that cuts out poisons, priests and parents is a startling stroke of contemporary genius.
Romeo and Juliet have as much fun flirting with the text as they do with each other. This is delightfully refreshing. The great speeches trip easily off the tongue and sound like everyday conversations that young lovers might have. They are also surprisingly amusing and manage to raise laughs without losing sight of their amorous sincerity. The same-sex male relationship gives many of the lines a revitalised potential for suggestive interpretation and the cast milk it throughout the show.
The production is a challenge to traditional perceptions of Shakespeare and conventional romance that according to the Company is ‘inspired by the on-going conversation around toxic masculinity’. It makes a valuable contribution to debates in both areas. It’s also an uplifting and intoxicating piece of theatre. Give it a try. There are no penalties involved.