REVIEW: Unmasked Theatre’s fresh take on Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet

Romeo & Juliet, The Hawth Studio, Crawley, February 17

It’s amazing to think about how many Shakespeare adaptations there have been and how many are still being produced.

Only last year, Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company presented The Winter’s Tale to critical acclaim, while Michael Fassbender starred in a superb Macbeth movie.

The Bard’s appeal is still strong, but how do you keep his works fresh after 400 years?

Well, if you’re Unmasked Theatre you make some surprising and undeniably bold changes.

Their version of Romeo & Juliet (The Hawth Studio, Crawley, February 17) takes the traditional text and cuts it up. The basic story remains, along with much of the original dialogue, but more modern elements are strategically inserted. We get snippets of present-day speech, scenes with atmospheric pop music and montages that come across like symbolic performance art.

It all sounds a bit pretentious but these odd creative choices work quite well, giving Romeo & Juliet an engaging tone and unique style.

The play is also set in Milan in 1910, with the ‘old wealth’ Capulets fighting the ‘new money’ Montagues. It might seem like a trivial detail, but it certainly allows for some rich costumes.

There are some good action moments too. A broken bottle fight between Tybalt and Mercutio, for example, really gets the adrenaline pumping.

However, seeing as Romeo & Juliet is about a tragic love story, the play’s success will always depend on the acting. And I’m happy to say that this adaptation delivers.

Alysha Finch conveys Juliet’s turmoil well, presenting a rebellious but fragile character who is trapped and suffocated by her family.

Chris Whitmore is a likeable but rather sulky Romeo and shows a character who lets his emotions guide his actions in disastrous ways. The scene where Friar Lawrence (Richard Evans) tries to comfort a banished Romeo gets a comic edge as the young man starts whining about his situation.

All nine supporting actors are good too. Ali Storm presents a fearsome and alluring Tybalt while Paul Mills shows just how cruel and bitter Capulet can be.

But it’s Claire Anscomb who offers the show’s scariest character as Lady Capulet. Spiteful and controlling, she masks her nastiness with manners and a false smile.

There are some flaws with this production, of course, but they’re relatively minor.

Overall, Romeo & Juliet blends style and substance together nicely, presenting a novel take on an enduring classic.

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