"Shakespeare: Stuffed with honorable parts"
by Mark Downie on 09/02/12

If memories of English Literature lessons at school have caused your reluctance to sit through a production of Shakespeare then this particular adaptation is probably one of the most favourable introductions to his works you could wish for. Yes I have said it before but shows such as this make me feel very lucky that high quality professional theatre is performed so locally. This is a modern, dynamic and inventive adaptation which literally explodes onto the stage from the off.

As one of the most famous love stories ever told if you don't know the synopsis of Romeo and Juliet, where have you been? Essentially think of West Side Story told in ye olde English and without any of the music. It is a tale of two feuding families; the Capulets and Montagues who have been causing havoc in and around Verona for years. At a chance meeting the son of one and only daughter of the other fall hopelessly & madly in love. With their families at war it is difficult to meet; so enlisting the help of friends they snatch fleeting moments of togetherness whenever they can.

They elope and get wed then after a brawl Romeo is banished on a charge of murder and so Juliets' family decide to wed her off to a young chap called Paris. A plan is then hatched for the two lovers to be together once more but through a series of timely errors and mishaps their plan goes wrong, seriously wrong. Therein lies the tragedy and the twist in the tale - if you want the details go see the play - but make sure it is this adaptation you watch!

I have attended several Headlong Productions at the Nuffield and although it never seems possible this proves they keep getting better with each outing. We were promised a fresh spin and they do not fail to deliver. There was some very clever and timely use of modern music, though the party scene did make it difficult to hear some of the main dialogue going on to the front of the stage (I suspect this was more due to the acoustics of my seat position rather than an over-zealous sound engineer). Although very inventive, the time shift elements (a lȃ 'Sliding Doors') were a little lost on me as they were never really explained or appear to come to any conclusion (my fault for not hunting down someone 'in the know' during the interval who could shed some light on it). That said, some of the scenes were very cleverly cut together creating a fast-paced dynamic feel to what is quite a long play.

The stage is built out into the first few rows of the auditorium and takes the appearance of a minimalist New York loft-style apartment with wooden floors, exposed brick walls and what appears to be the largest flat screen tv you will ever see mounted to the rear; so large in fact that it has a staircase on either side! A double bed occupies centre stage for a large part of the production, and is a clever metaphor for the romance and conflicts that unfold.

Each and every cast member gave it their all and performed at a level way above my expectations, almost faultless in fact, with notable and boisterous support from Tom Mothersdale as the often irreverent Mercutio. My award for most underrated, and therefore most deserving of praise, goes to Caroline Faber as Lady Capulet who, although often overshadowed, for me brought such well observed realism to the portrayal.

Although this is a long-ish play I was engrossed from the start and my thoughts never wandered from the on-stage action. To my mind this is a real 'must see' whether a Shakespeare fan or not.

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