Karen Coombs reviews The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet for Stage Whispers. See the review in its original context here.
A modern adaptation of a classic is not uncommon. Zoey Dawson’s version of Romeo and Juliet, however, takes on the challenge of using a young, all female cast to play the mostly male characters of the Montague and Capulet battle. And it works well. If anything, it takes the focus off the famous, tragic couple and puts the spotlight onto the young and in love Juliet; also aided by the fact that Juliet is played by the one actress, Brigid Gallacher, whilst the rest of the cast; Nikki Shiels, Naomi Rukavina, Devon Lang Wilton, Laura Maitland and Carolyn Butler, takes turns in playing Romeo. What is achieved therefore is an eye-opener into the angst of a young teenage girl in love – albeit a modern one.
The modern and girly set by Zoe Rouse, of a pretty bedroom with books and fluffy toys, accentuates the juxtaposition of Juliet’s youthful innocence, unwittingly cast into the awful circumstances of murder, isolation and suicide. The ensemble ably handles the lofty text, yet delivered with entirely modern mannerisms – supported by random pop-music, props and costumes. It makes for some really funny moments but without any touch of send-up. When Juliet is believed to be dead, the scene is pure Brecht- it’s funny and it works brilliantly.
This play oozes girl-power of the tough and gritty kind. The young actresses swing between the masculine and the feminine; the funny and the tragic with ease. They take on scenes of fighting, stabbing and murder with authentic gusto. It feels unfair to single anyone out but Naomi Rukavina was a most believable Romeo and Nikki Shiels a talented stand-out.
This is well directed and adapted play by Dawson.