Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe
After its long closure due to the pandemic, Shakespeare’s Globe finally re-opens its doors with a new vision of Romeo and Juliet. Stirred by the year’s events, director Ola Ince’s re-staging utilises pressing concerns with mounting mental health issues and power disparities across society to underscore the play’s tragedy. Relevant in its interpretation, the production stumbles in its execution.
A tense moment of peace between warring families is set to be disrupted when two adolescents (Alfred Enoch and Rebekah Murrell) from opposite sides fall for each other. Ince grounds Shakespeare’s famous tale of star-crossed lovers in an ominous, tense atmosphere with equal measure of irreverence and aplomb. Hanging beneath Juliet’s balcony, an electronic billboard broadcasts bleak facts in black and red (these stark anarchic colours dominating Jacob Hughes’ design aesthetic), which Ince uses didactically to bridge the play and the present. In Brechtian fashion, the statements recontextualise the characters’ motivations and dynamics through current political and psycho-social problems. It occasionally offers an insightful reframing of Shakespeare’s characters as young people suffering with mental insecurities in an increasingly precarious, unequal society.
This emphatic approach does have problems, however. The statements can speak too much for certain scenes or not say much at all. Other directorial decisions are also questionable. The inciting moment of the Capulet Ball is conceived clumsily, allowing any tension or spark to be completely undercut for weakly comic karaoke and cluttered staging. While the depressive circumstances of the lovers’ ill-fated romance are evocatively foregrounded – surrounded by unglorified deaths and abusive parental – control this interpretation completely eschews any of the excitement that comes with a burgeoning teenage romance.
Consequently, the leads have little chemistry. When solo, Murrell certainly brings out Juliet’s acute and vulnerable sides, but Enoch’s performance is just too mannered: wherefore art thou, passion? Adam Gillen’s Mercutio gets the laughs, but due more to his quirkily swaggering physicality than his gabbling, squeaky delivery. The rest of the company assuredly sustain the production’s bitter edge, each with their standout moments, well supported by the on-stage band’s sharp, melancholic free jazz renditions.
Reservations aside, the re-staging does ultimately encourage a reconsideration of this very well-known play. “Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things,” the prince advises at the tragedy’s grim resolution. In its best moments, this production provides such lines with pertinent weight and wisdom.
Romeo and Juliet is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 7th July until 17th October 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.