Romeo and Juliet at Southwark Playhouse
As part of Southwark Playhouse’s Shakespeare for Schools project, this new adaptation of renowned play Romeo and Juliet (which follows the turbulent journey of two “star-crossed lovers” over less than four days) has arrived in the city, and is a smooth blend of Shakespeare and 1980s London.
Setting the narrative in Brixton in 1981, director Nicky Allpress does an incredible job conveying the experience of the amorous young couple as a microcosm of the national divide experienced in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Once the doors are opened, the audience is transported to a local pub, where they are greeted by the actors in character – something that helps them to feel a part of the production, rather than simply spectators.
The ability to make Shakespeare accessible is no mean feat, and one that is achieved by both cast and crew here. Most notably, Amy Loughton, who plays both Nurse and Apothecary, manages to expertly lift the sometimes inaccessible words of Shakespeare off the page and bring them to life with her witty jaunts and physical humour. Not only that, but her additional talent as a saxophonist is a highlight of the show, bringing the music of Madness to an audience eager to get up and dance.
Often, when read, the central characters of Romeo and Juliet can be a source of irritation to the reader, however, in this adaptation, the two lovers (played by Samuel Tracy as Romeo and Laura Lake Adebisi as Juliet) skilfully manage to remain relatable throughout, and even earn audible gasps at their untimely ends. It is a sheer pleasure to watch, and, alongside the great characters of Mercutio (Joey Ellis) and Benvolio (Yinka Awoni), the casting of this particular version of Romeo and Juliet is not far from excellence personified.
The play is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare, but also an engaging and thought-provoking variation for those who are veterans of the Bard. It is a straight 1-hour-and-45-minute run with no interval, but the time flies by with the use of humour, audience participation and two-tone music. Though there is quite a lot of comic relief, this version of the classic points to an unfortunate narrative of division – one that permeates through societies past and present – and encourages the audience to heed the lessons that can be learned to better the future.
Romeo and Juliet is at Southwark Playhouse from 12th January until 5th February 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.