Tag Archives: Jonathan Holby

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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Women Beware The Devil

Women, Beware The Devil


Almeida Theatre

WOMEN, BEWARE THE DEVIL at the Almeida Theatre


Women Beware The Devil

“full of artful tricks that allow the action to switch between vast portrait galleries designed to impress, to intimate bedroom spaces”


Women, Beware the Devil, Lulu Raczka’s new play at the Almeida Theatre, directed by Rupert Goold, is an intriguing mix of social history and political commentary, set in the 1640s. It’s a commentary etched upon the domestic lives of women caught up in the beginnings of a civil war that will change their lives forever. What has the devil to do with all this? His power is not what it was, as he engagingly confides in the opening scene. But for all this gutsy introduction to the Prince of Darkness, Raczka’s play is less about devilish magic, and more about hanging onto an ancient house by any means, fair or foul. And if you consider the current preoccupations with the housing crisis in Britain, then Women, Beware the Devil doesn’t seem so much a lesson in history, as a very contemporary play indeed.

Make no mistake, Women, Beware the Devil is a play about a property. It’s also about primogeniture and the powerlessness of women to decide their own fates. Everything revolves around the stately home and the lives of the women bound to it by blood or by service. Lady Elizabeth, unmarried sister of the dimwitted Edward, takes her duties towards the house seriously, as well she might. For if her brother fails to produce a male heir, then she loses her power, but more importantly, loses her home as well. The female servants that surround her are equally vulnerable. Their livelihoods depend on the owners of the house and their goodwill. When Edward refuses to consummate his marriage with a wealthy woman he considers socially beneath him, Elizabeth puts her soul on the line to ensure that the house remains in her family. She hires Agnes, a woman suspected of being a witch by her gossiping neighbours, and instructs her to bewitch her brother into doing his duty by his wife. Agnes initially refuses, but the ways in which Elizabeth and her sister in law Catherine work upon Agnes precipitate a diabolical revenge. Agnes really is a witch, it seems. If the devil does win in this grim story, it is presumably because he set up the property system around the time of William the Conqueror, and then sat back to watch it all play out.

Women, Beware the Devil plays out on a magnificent set designed by Miriam Buether. It is full of artful tricks that allow the action to switch between vast portrait galleries designed to impress, to intimate bedroom spaces. Buether’s set echoes the distances between the characters, with tall windows and a receding perspective that heighten this chilly tale. Goold’s directing is a beautifully crafted choreography designed to emphasize the power relationships between the women, and show how these shift dramatically during the course of the play. The costumes, designed by Evie Gurney, are a lovely mix of Puritan drab and Cavalier excess, with sparkling jewelry for added bling. It’s all spell binding to look at, presided over by a fetching Satan with cute little horns. Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea plays him to perfection, and manages a host of other roles as well. Some devilish, and some all too human. But the lion’s share of the action goes to the actresses in Women, Beware the Devil, as it should. Lydia Leonard as Elizabeth and Alison Oliver as Agnes face off for an epic struggle of good versus evil, and the fact that it’s difficult to tell exactly who is on Team Evil simply enhances our enjoyment of their work. Lola Shalam, Aurora Dawson-Hunte and Carly-Sophia Davies are a convincing trio of gossiping maids with agendas of their own. Leo Bill as Edward, and Ioanna Kimbook as the browbeaten Catherine, have the least sympathetic roles, but they still claim the space convincingly as their own whenever they are on stage.

For all its bravado in theme and presentation, however, Women, Beware the Devil undercuts its own power by being more about domestic politics than witchcraft. Not surprisingly, we are are unconvinced by threats of witchfinders, especially when they are unmasked as one more kind of puritan revolutionary. Yes, they can still do harm. But the age of the witchfinder ended, pretty much, a generation earlier, and the world of the play is now trembling on the edge of a philosophical revolution which will banish superstition (and witches) for good. So maybe the devil is just having one last party with the unfortunate women. Raczka hints that he’s still around, in different disguises, even in our modern world. But that’s a claim that rings hollow in our sceptical age. And it’s an unconvincing ending for a drama that suggests a reckoning with big subjects.


Reviewed on 23rd February 2023

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Marc Brenner



More shows recently reviewed by Dominica:


Tanz | ★★★★ | Battersea Arts Centre | November 2022
The Return | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | November 2022
Little Red Riding Hood | ★★½ | Battersea Arts Centre | December 2022
Orlando | ★★★★ | Garrick Theatre | December 2022
The Art of Illusion | ★★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | January 2023
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane | ★★★★ | New Victoria Theatre | January 2023
Intruder | ★★★★ | VAULT Festival 2023 | January 2023
666 Hell Lane | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2023
Dance Me | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | February 2023
Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2023


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