Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 9 July 2017
Guest reviewer: Tom Ward
It is immediately evident from the beginning that Daniel Kramer’s current version of Romeo and Juliet is not the classical tale of two “star-crossed lovers” we are familiar with. The show opens to the sound of children’s voices echoing dangerously throughout the theatre, whilst two characters give birth (and I mean this literally) to two black coffins, and therefore the story, beneath two giant bombs and a tattered black mezzanine hang from the ceiling. The production’s themes shine instantly; the inevitability of death is brought forth with joyful ambition and a childish playfulness.
Kramer’s lead characters (Edward Hogg and Kirsty Bushell) mock their traditionally attributed archetypes. Neither character is physically stunning, thus helping to ground them in our own twisted reality. In fact, the characters gradually become less beautiful to match the grotesque progression of the plot; their face paint (a combination of South American and Clown influences) disintegrates to nothing more than a twisted smudge, thus damaging their physique. The physicality of both actors merges with that of their characters to enhance our appreciation of their subconscious.
This stark grotesqueness underpins the majority of Kramer’s concept – a gritty reality that shines with comical colloquialisms. Social and cultural references make this piece incredibly accessible in an attempt to connect with younger or less experienced audiences. These moments however lack subtlety – a parcel from FedEx is thrust into the air for an inordinate amount of time, a clear attempt to make sure that the audience receives the joke.
There are moments where Kramer’s attempts to produce a coherent style loses its momentum. Lord Capulet’s (Gareth Snook) physical outburst towards his disobedient daughter is engaging, but its delivery pulls any tension away from the scene, particularly in Snook’s use of brash physical gestures.
The most refreshing aspect of Romeo and Juliet is Kramer’s utilisation of queerness as a tool for play, celebration and pleasure without a hint of sexuality. Despite the stereotypical use of The Village People’s YMCA during the Capulet’s party, it enables Kramer to open the show up to the possibility of exploration sexual fluidity and yields some very positive outcomes.
The nature of Kramer’s experimentation means that not everything is going to be successful in this over-worked production. However, being too purist about Shakespeare is going to have a dampening effect on its relevance in the coming years. It is enthralling to witness a production that attempts to move Shakespeare into an image based text, rather than a linguistic one, so give credit to directors like Daniel Kramer – it is these theatre makers that are going to keep the Bard vibrant and stimulating for years to come.