Romeo and Juliet
Reviewed – 16th May 2021
“an intriguing adaption and a creative and unique piece of digital theatre”
Two households, both alike in dignity. Those famous lines are how Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedy usually begins. Except in this interactive online version, I find myself on a Zoom call alongside a great many households, watching live as the fight kicks off between the two feuding families.
One of the key selling points of this fun and fresh reinvention of a much-loved classic is the interactive element – where the audience can make decisions about the characters’ fates. For my first choice, I have chosen to be a Montague, and so I begin the play witnessing the initial street brawl between the two sides and then dashing off to see Romeo (Kofi Dennis), Mercutio (Dharmesh Patel) and Benvolio (Harmony Rose Bremner) preparing for their night at the Capulets.
How to stage a play on Zoom is a question many theatre companies have grappled with over the past year and designer Ryan Dawson Laight and director Natasha Rickman have come up with a worthy and bold solution. Performing individually, the actors swim onto brightly-coloured ghostly backgrounds, where characters overlap each other and become both big and small. After a short adjustment period, it soon becomes immersive – an ethereal and inviting experience.
As we enter the party and meet the Capulets, the story moves swiftly on to another Zoom call, where our hero meets his Juliet (Annabelle Terry), but is also pursued by the watching eyes of Tybalt (Sebastian Capitan Viveros) and Lord Capulet (Graeme Rose), setting the familiar chain of events in motion.
Then it is back to the company’s website, where the choice-making element of the production truly begins, interspersed with pre-recorded scenes. As well as the decisions – laid out on tarot cards – there are also valiant attempts to engage with the Zoom audience and to add a bit of personalisation to the performance. These additional bits are interesting, but it is hard to add very much new material to such a well-trodden story and I am often unsure how much impact each decision I make has.
I hope it is not a spoiler to say that, despite my choices and the combined efforts of Sister Lauren (Clare Humphrey, as a gender-swapped Friar Lawrence) and the nurse (Katy Stephens), I do not manage to save the star-crossed lovers. But there are hints throughout the production that a more discerning viewer might be able to…
Along with the staging, the combined efforts of music and sound (Matt Eaton) and movement and choreography (Simon Pittman) work well for the fight and dance scenes, but perhaps less so for the love scenes. The actors largely adapt happily to the digital realm, with some stand-out performances. Kofi Dennis as Romeo is particularly good, embodying all the angst and passion you would expect from the young hero. And Dharmesh Patel brings an ominous, almost-creepy air to Mercutio that works surprisingly well. Support from the rest of the cast (Giles Stoakley, Vera Chok, Viss Elliot Safavi, Lola Boulter and Andy Owens) also adds depth to the performance.
With all of its additional elements, this Romeo and Juliet is an intriguing adaption and a creative and unique piece of digital theatre.
Reviewed by Vicky Richards
Romeo and Juliet
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