Shakespeare’s R & J


Reading Rep Theatre

SHAKESPEARE’S R & J at the Reading Rep Theatre


Shakespeare's R&J

“Elijah Ferreira gives a stunning performance as Romeo.”

This intriguing show was written by American Director Joe Calarco in 1997. It translates Romeo and Juliet’s ‘star-crossed lovers’ into pupils who act out the play at a repressive Catholic boys boarding school. The idea of containing a play within a play was very much Shakespeare’s own. A cast of just four are all on stage together for almost the entire evening as we see Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ unfold through their adolescent eyes. Maybe ten percent of the text is new, including some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, latin drill – ‘amo, amas, amat’ and words from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Right at the start it’s established that Student 1 has feelings for Student 2 and it’s these two that take on the roles of Romeo and Juliet – in intense performances that don’t always get the approval of their fellows.

A note in the programme by Director and Company founder Paul Stacey underlines their commitment to giving voice to the under-represented including those that identify as LGBTQIA+. This powerful production does just that in a way that some may find poses a playful challenge to their expectations. And if a few traditionalists are offended by this re-purposing of such a familiar text, that is their loss.

Elijah Ferreira gives a stunning performance as Romeo. Every word is carefully weighed and delivered with exacting clarity and dedication to meaning. He uses gesture with almost telegraphic expressiveness. Brayden Emmanuel is physically much taller than Ferreira and as Student 2, his involving and energetic Juliet defies any expectation of camp girlishness.

“a lively and rich-textured show”

Luke Daniels is Mercutio, Friar Laurence and Lady Capulet. Expect theatrical fireworks from the start of the second half when Romeo learns of his banishment. Daniel also shines as Lady Capulet in the scene that follows, as well as giving his own take on Mercutio’s memorable ‘Queen Mab’ speech about dreams. Tom Sowinski has some great comic moments as the Nurse and then flips into the brawling Tybalt in the duel with Mercutio.

A clever and beautiful set by Anna Kelsey literally steams with the intensity of the drama and integrates some pleasing lighting (John Rainsforth) which adds great atmosphere to this intimate and involving studio piece. The costumes ring true whilst avoiding the colour coding of the houses of Montague and Capulet seen in some productions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

The play within the play employs some stylised devices to considerable effect. A shouting chorus of disapproval condemns the young lovers. Swords become ropes and cloth. Action is slowed. The boy actors (or is it the Shakespearean characters?) observe each other performing and we see their reactions to the story they are unfolding.

Jamie Lu’s sound design is strong on thunder and lightning and for those that know it, there are some touching ‘Heart Stopper’ moments as the two young lovers get together.

This is a lively and rich-textured show that was a delight to watch.


SHAKESPEARE’S R & J at the Reading Rep Theatre

Reviewed on 16th October 2023

by David Woodward

Photography by Harry Elletson





Previously reviewed at this venue:

Hedda Gabler | ★★★★★ | February 2023
Dorian | ★★★★ | October 2021

Shakespeare’s R & J

Shakespeare’s R & J

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