Romeo & Juliet

Sat 2nd – Sat 9th February 2013

reviews

Imogen Comrie

at 19:44 on 2nd Feb 2013

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I am completely convinced that all children should grow up loving Shakespeare, and thanks to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School there is a group of children that are enthralled by it. The challenge of reworking Shakespeare’s most heart breaking tragedy for a young audience has been taken up, and surpassed, whilst offering up an innovative piece of theatre that absolutely everyone can fall in love with.

The set of a pink and fluffy child’s bedroom seems a strange replacement for Verona, but all becomes clear when Emily, charmingly played by Molly Hanson-Akins, meekly enters the stage. She aligns the tale of Romeo and Juliet with her favourite Disney stories, and proceeds to create a magical fairy tale right there in her bedroom. Her bunk bed becomes a kind of cupboard to Narnia, with ‘Disney-fied’ Shakespearian characters bursting through to bring Romeo and Juliet to life. The use of Disney anthems throughout the play revealed the elements of the play very effectively, creating a believable world for the audience to enjoy. Director and Adaptor Toby Hulse creates a pantomime feel to the show, with the hugely entertaining direction delighting children and adults alike. Hulse managed to interweave the worlds of Emily and the Shakespearian actors seamlessly. The pillow fight between Tybalt and Mercutio that watch along with a delighted Emily is hilariously slapstick. The confidence and talent of these drama school students was really very impressive, every one of them seemed to be loving their time on stage.

At this point I began to wonder how the tragic elements of the play would be tackled. A Disney film would end with the marriage of Prince Romeo and Princess Juliet; yet to the dismay of Emily, and the audience in the know, the play takes its course. The death of Mercutio is truly moving, and I was pleased to see that the children in the audience were not being pandered to. Credit must go to Perry Moore for such a believable performance amidst the light-hearted mood of the play. Comedic moments feature throughout but the second half is noticeably darker. However, the brilliance of the story thus far meant that the audience was utterly taken with it and willing to be transported anywhere by the actors. The mixture between Shakespearean prose and modern dialogue is always effortlessly mixed, allowing for both humour and tenderness, especially as Emily asks Juliet not to kill herself. The conclusion of the play was satisfying in its tragedy, which was made all the more poignant due to the drastic mood change that the actors and adaptation managed to make.

This adaptation offers so much more than a mere point of access to Shakespeare’s work; it is storytelling at its finest and succeeds in faithfully presenting Shakespeare’s play to a new audience whilst being completely refreshing to a seasoned one.

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Rose Bonsier

at 09:33 on 3rd Feb 2013

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Romeo and Juliet is a play that’s been performed so many times that you’d have thought it was impossible to do anything original with it. But apparently not. Toby Hulse’s adaptation for key stage two children turned it into a Disney fairytale story where a young girl Emily (Molly Hanson-Akins) discovers the play and imagines herself entering the story as she reads it. The only setting for the play is the young Emily’s bedroom which is used for every scene, from ballroom to chamber, and showed very shrewd use of minimal set. The cleverly crafted script was easily understandable for the young audience but retained certain vital lines of Shakespeare’s original work, slotting them in seamlessly and even creating its own jokes around the tropes of Shakespearean language for the adults of the audience.

It’s typically assumed that Romeo and Juliet should be characterized as a tragedy, but Hulme’s adaptation created something that was closer to pantomime in its nature that teased out and exaggerated the often missed jokes of the play. With slapstick comedy brought to life by over-the-top acting and well-choreographed fights, as well as a nurse in drag played by the hilarious Phil Dunster, it was hugely successful in engaging the children of the audience. There were, nevertheless, points when I was concerned that the light-hearted and joking nature went close to making a mocking parody of the play, and at times the exaggerated nature of the action and subsequent comedy meant that the story lost some of its emotional depth in places. However, this isn’t to say that the company didn’t adequately convey it by the end. Towards the final scenes there were moments of complete and utter stunned silence amongst the audience, something I’ve never witnessed before in a theatre packed with children, and the ability of the cast to switch from calamity to genuine emotional outbursts demonstrated the versatility and strength of the Old Vic Theatre School actors. I was particularly struck by Nikki Taggart who played Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother; her outrage at Tybalt’s death and her insistence that Juliet (Hebe Dickins) must marry Paris was extremely convincing and it was obvious that she put real feeling behind the words.

Physical theatre was cleverly employed in the absence of scene changes and blackouts, meaning that the entire telling of the story relied on the actors’ ability to perform it. The ball scene for instance was cleverly brought to life by the actors dancing with dresses, and the characters appeared out of nowhere, with Mercutio (Perry Moore) popping out of a toy box and Romeo springing from beneath a bed cover. All this added to the magically fantastical effect of the play. The difficult ending was also handled very well, with Emily herself playing a key role in proceedings. The audience was first shown the fairytale ending she envisaged for the couple before we saw the actual ending of the play. This served to highlight its tragic nature by emphasizing just how close Romeo and Juliet came to living happily ever after. Credit must go to Craig Fuller, who played Romeo, and to Dickins for their performance of the suicides (which were shown on stage) because they were at once completely believable and moving but not overly disturbing to the young audience. If you’re up for a laugh but also looking to see a damn good piece of theatre there’s another performance on Saturday 9th Feb by a completely different cast and director, and if it’s anything like this one you’re in for a real treat.

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