Theatre Review: Romeo and Juliet - Theatre Royal, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭

Review by Anna Ireland

Of all the tales of passion, love and tragedy, arguably none is more infamous than Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ The Globe Theatre’s production of the play sees ‘Romeo, Romeo, where art thou Romeo?’ revived and touring around the UK.

Rarely can a Shakespeare play be seen without some sort of pre-judgement, but the immediate simplicity of this revival serves to dispel any preconceptions you may have. It is this minimalism that allows us to focus on a play that is full of a passion and fire, setting alight the intertwined (but essentially doomed) fates of young Romeo (Samuel Valentine) and Juliet (Cassie Layton). From opposing families, the Montagues and Capulets, their love is offset against a backdrop of conflict and hatred, with both promised to another.

Costumes are minimal, and are thrown upon the actors on-stage to represent the quick inter-changing of characters,exemplified through both garb and varying degrees of gruffness of accent. The cast are responsible for representing characters from each of the warring families, creating diversity without the pompous, ruffle-filled costume-drama stereotype that so often perpetuates many dominant visions of Shakespeare. 

The stage is erected in an Elizabethan-style that is well-manipulated to create height that escalates the towering passion of the lovers to the balcony for Juliet’s cries for her banished lover. The characters can appear above without the awareness of those below; you are aware that thefates of the families are inextricably linked, but they are none the wiser.

In this interpretation, they bring to life the mockery, innuendo and humour of these circumstances that lends itself naturally to Shakespeare’s often ‘naughty’ lines. Teenage love is not insignificant in this play, but its youth is exaggerated in the form of wistful young Romeo, mocked by his energetic and hilarious counterpart Mercutio (Steffan Donnelly). As political and familial ties are eschewed in favour of a more powerful force (that of love), Juliet’s impassioned scenes in Romeo’s absence represent the two as the ultimate casualties of a wider, more powerful conflict. As she is reduced to a poisoned sleep as the only hope of escape, essentially, earth becomes too cruel.

It feels close to Shakespearean in its nature as an immersive experience rather than mere performance. Music is played on stage by the cast for the purposes of both communal merriment in the case of a traditional jig, and a few woeful strings to emphasise sorrow. The show is simply dressed, but conceals a bold heart of liveliness and humour that allows us to focus on the talent of the actors in bringing the tale to light, a talent that burns bright. It is a performance that serves to dispel any stereotypes of Shakespearean dullness, and replace these with an exciting, engaging and captivating alternative.