Romeo + Juliet at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate
Hiraeth Artistic Productions has brought William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to the audience of Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate.
Forget tights, codpieces and ruffs. Director Zoe Ford has chosen to replace these 16th century relics with costumes more suited to the likes of The Who and The Small Faces. With parkers and side burns, fur coats and beehives, Brighton Pier is the setting of this new interpretation. Ford’s Romeo and Juliet makes every effort to recreate the fury and the fuel of 1960s youth culture.
In theory, this makes perfect sense. There are clear parallels between the rivalry of Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets with the Mods and Rockers of 1964. Dominant parental figures and adult control remain significant even in today’s society. The tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet is so universal that it could fit comfortably into any setting or situation, and the tragedy within the story would still exist. The trouble is that Shakespeare’s plays have been done and re-done so many times that a new adaptation can only be memorable and striking, heart-wrenching and different if there is something about it that shines.
There were some moments within the performance that were brilliant. David Vaughan-Knight as Capulet did not overplay the mobster father. He was believable and terrifying, embodying the role of both time periods with such close proximity to the audience, his control and power were very clear. Robert Durbin, Tabitha Becker-Kahn and moments of Rosalind Blessed’s performances were all to be credited.
Three crucial factors made the performance stumble through to an unconvincing end – the first two being Romeo and Juliet themselves. It has been said before that Romeo and Juliet would be a wonderful play without Romeo and Juliet. Even in the original the characters cannot help but frustrate the audience at their selfish naivety; the roles are such that any actor has a real struggle to keep the audience sympathetic to their tragic fate. Though Benjamin Ireland and Maya Thomas worked tirelessly to recreate the passion between the two lovers, it was this self-absorption that made it impossible for the audience to empathise with them. This slowed the power and pace of the supporting actors.
The third factor: never, ever should Romeo and Juliet be turned into a rhythmic, expressive dance piece.