Barbican Centre, London – until 19 January 2019
Guest reviewer: Kirsty Herrington
Romeo & Juliet, with Karen Fishwick and Bally Gill as the leads, arrives at the Barbican as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s London residency. Directed by Erica Whyman, Shakespeare’s classic story of love and rivalry is given a contemporary makeover that results in an energetic and urgent adaptation.
Although written over four centuries ago, this production feels chillingly relevant, with members of rival families brandishing knives and fighting on the streets, the bloody consequences of gang warfare brutally highlighted. The tale of the warring Montagues and Capulets is set in Verona, but it is easy to translate this culture to Sadiq Khan’s contemporary London. And yet, despite the tragedy, there proves a surprising amount of comedy interwoven within the drama and heartbreak that makes for an engaging evening.
The production’s highlight is the host of standout performances drawn from a talented and diverse cast. Whyman elects to have the Prince of Verona and Mercutio played by Beth Cordingly and Charlotte Josephine and for the most part, this works. Though a little over-exaggerated at times, Josephine puts in a fine performance as the spirited Mercutio, who is just as tough and brash as any of the boys and, tragically isn’t afraid to back down from a challenge.
Elsewhere Andrew French provides a calming presence as Friar Laurence, keen to help the teenage couple but unwittingly setting in motion a wave of calamitous events. Ishia Bennison threatens to steal each scene she’s in as the cheeky, no-nonsense Nurse, a mother figure for Juliet, and at times it feels as if she wouldn’t be out of place in a Victoria Wood sketch, providing most of the comic relief.