Under pulsating strobe lights, repeatedly illuminating the exposed metal of an urban stage, Romeo and Juliet thrusts itself into the audience’s attention. It is here that, punctuated by the thump of the bass, the eponymous star-crossed lovers emerge from the crowd transfixed by one another. The moment feels fresh and charged, catching an audience distracted by a house party rave off guard – an impressive feat by director Erica Whyman. We watch as Romeo (Bally Gill) makes the role his own, exposing the awkwardness of chatting a girl up using a forced pilgrim metaphor with levity. We are not the only ones: Tybalt rises above the on-looking crowd, ominously embodying Romeo’s premonition that ‘some consequence yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin his fearful date’.

The RSC’s production is infused with youthful zeal, epitomised by Mercutio (Charlotte Josephine), a whirling dervish of an actor. The result drives the play forward, keeps us entertained and constantly reminds us of that oft-overlooked fact: these characters are children. This sits well with the comedy of the play. Slapstick is what the doctor ordered and the Nurse (Ishia Bennison) delivers it in spades, her light-hearted self-indulgence usually hitting the mark. Karen Fishwick, playing Juliet, gives a strong performance, perfectly balancing youthful confidence with teenage self-doubt – a really believable performance matched only by Gill’s.

By transposing the play into the modern era, and successfully bringing its youth to life, the play has a good foundation from which to build. Sadly it never gets beyond this. In a week that has seen four fatal stabbings in London, the platform is set to either pass comment or terrify the audience with the scenario’s relevance. It never grasps the nettle however, preferring to lessen the blow with oddly archaic scabbarding and fight scenes that would be more at home on Strictly than the streets. This is highlighted by the incongruous decision to play the Apothecary as a homeless woman with access to poison, where a street dealer would have made better sense.

Putting aside perhaps my disappointment that the play did not evolve into something more cutting, there are a number of other aspects where Romeo and Juliet is genuinely lacking. Capulet is played by Michael Hodgson in the most baffling, not to mention stilted, way – careering round the stage set either to ‘shouty’ or ‘particularly shouty’. The prologue and epilogue both feel forced, but the ultimate sin is the sheer amount of time actors spend directing lines to the audience that are intended for each other.

After a promising and engaging first half, Whyman settles us into a pedestrian second helping of set-piece Shakespeare that fails to make use of the world it has built, and then steadily dismantles it.


Romeo and Juliet runs until the 19th January at the Barbican Theatre

Matt is an alumnus of rival universities UCL and King's College London and, with degrees in Biochemistry and Cell Therapy, is also caught between rival passions of science and theatre. Acting includes 'NSFW' at the Edinburgh Fringe. Directing includes 'Rhinoceros' at the Shaw Theatre.

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