For this production starring Freddie Fox, the story of Romeo and Juliet needs very little introduction, being Shakespeare’s classic tale of two young lovers from rival families who see beyond their family’s feud, and secretly marry. ★★★
But when Romeo kills a member of Juliet’s family, the tragedy looks set to tear them apart.
Whilst retaining the original text, the events are loosely set in the north of England, with northern accents aplenty and bold characters, some of whom have a slight hint of “Jeremy Kyle fodder” bolshiness about them. The costumes provided an overarching 70’s visual style, made up of a plethora of man-made fibres, bold patterns, skimpy trunks and jumpsuits. An empty set constructed of corrugated steel sheets and pressed wood flooring served to focus the audience on the performances of the cast and the use of only two contrasting materials reflected the two conflicting families of the story.
But with so little on set, the performances were left to carry the production. There were two performances which stood out from the ensemble cast. Firstly Rachel Lumberg as Nurse, who was the epitome of the northern “salt of the Earth” working class mother figure. Secondly was a quirky, camp and awkward version of Peter, played by Joshua Miles. Skulking around like the lovechild of Alan Bennet and Jarvis Cocker, his scene stealing turn was rewarded with the majority of the audience’s laughter and affection.
But the draw here is Freddie Fox, last seen by most people in “Cucumber”, “Banana” and “Pride”. Fox made for an interesting choice, with his youthful, almost androgynous and pale features, which worked surprisingly well. Fox’s performance was better than one would perhaps anticipate, demonstrating his versatility. His diction was clear and precise and he did hold a real stage presence, drawing the eye and teasing the audience with frequent flashes of his washboard abs and his toned biceps. You could easily believe that he was a young, somewhat naïve love-struck teenager, and his wide-eyed performance conveyed Romeo’s first realisation of true love over and above his romantic ideations that had come before it. The supporting cast was also filled with a slew of very handsome young men, in particular Scott Arthur, Joshua Miles and Simon Manyonda who all performed as well as they looked.
Staging a new production of Romeo + Juliet can be tricky. As one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays and given its presence in popular culture, any company has to walk a fine line. If you make the production too modern, it draws the risk of being criticised as a pale imitation of the Baz Lurhman film starring Leonardo Di Caprio; too traditional and it becomes a bland and unimaginative re-tread which has all been seen before. But thankfully Sheffield Theatres manages to walk a line which means that there production doesn’t falls into either category, with a production that put me in mind of a Shane Meadow’s “This Is England 90” chav culture.
The first act of the play picked out the comedy elements of the piece nicely and was engaging and entertaining, although the second act did seem to lose some of the momentum which had built up in the first act and there were occasions throughout when some of the diction was lost at times by some of the cast members. But that said; it was an interesting take on a classic and one which did just about enough to make it stand apart from versions which has come before it.
Romeo + Juliet is at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 17th October 2015. Tickets can be bought online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or by calling the box office on 0114 249 6000.