Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Everything is council estate grey in Erica Whyman’s streetwise Royal Shakespeare Company revival of Shakespeare’s teenage gang-based tragedy, in Glasgow for the final leg of its UK tour. The brutalist steel and breezeblock backdrop of Tom Piper’s set lends the play a contemporary harshness heightened even more by the babble of criss-crossing young voices who stab out the play’s prologue like a weapon.
Once things calm down, we move downtown, where, on the frontline, the Capulets and the Montagues’ unspecified beef has become a hand-me-down accessory for local youth in search of a sense of belonging and a cause to call their own, however misguided they may be in their bid to join the grown-ups.
It’s this adolescent craving for attention and to be taken seriously that fires the play here, with inter-gang bantz led by Charlotte Josephine’s motor-mouthed Mercutio as he, Benvolio and Afolabi Alli’s matinee idol Romeo attempt to crash the Capulets’ big party and get down with the cool kids. What happens next should have been the love affair of the century, but ends in tears and a community torn apart.
Beyond the brat-pack, whose numbers are fleshed out by eight performers from local schools, Ishia Bennison’s Nurse possesses the comic warmth of an old-school club turn, while Andrew French’s Friar Laurence resembles a trendy vicar getting down with the kids.
Set to Sophie Cotton’s low-key string-based score peppered with occasional smatterings of dubstep and, at one point, a live grunge band, shadows of latter-day stabbings hang over Whyman’s production like a Stanley knife. As the dressed down ensemble spar their way towards the inevitable, the ghosts of the dead occasionally appear atop the grey cube that doubles up as Juliet’s balcony like civic art monuments.
It is here that the play’s most intimate moments occur beneath Charles Balfour’s increasingly brooding lighting. Karen Fishwick makes a wonderful Juliet as she moves from lovesick teen to real life adult, with all the matters of life and death that entails in this vigorous youthquake of a show.
The Herald, March 22nd 2019