Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 6th June 2022
“Gethin Alderman relishes the opportunity to show off his versatile speaking voice”
This ingenious new play by Rachel Garnet takes on the theme of love but rather than offer up the age-old story of Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed lovers it runs with the what-if possibility that Romeo’s friend Mercutio and his deadly enemy Tybalt should be struck by the same love arrow. We are given not a new version of R&J but a parallel story, a tale that is there but not explored in Shakespeare’s play. In so doing, we also get a fascinating origin story for Tybalt.
The production looks and sounds Shakespearean. A simple wooden stage (Set & Costume Designer Ruari Murchison) with a central double door and doors on the left and right provide a perfect symmetry and the opportunity for quick and versatile entrances and exits. Garnet’s text incorporates lines from the original alongside her own – drawing audience laughs and sighs of appreciation when recognised – and she deserves huge plaudits that this interpolation doesn’t sound contrived. The cast of three are dressed in doublets and hose with simple accoutrements where required and obligatory rapiers at their sides.
The Player (Gethin Alderman) sets the scene, immediately breaking the fourth wall with knowing looks to the audience and gentle clowning. He will continue to do this during scene changes to remind us we are watching just the telling of a story. He is joined by Mercutio (Connor Delves) and Tybalt (Tommy Sim’aan) for a rousing three-part harmony rendition of the Scottish folk song Twa Corbies and we know our evening is in safe hands.
Philip Wilson’s masterly direction has the three actors skipping light-footedly around the stage and only towards the very end of the piece does their pace and intensity begin to wane. Gethin Alderman relishes the opportunity to show off his versatile speaking voice in the many multi-roles he fulfils: a touch of Prince Charles about Lord Capulet, a smattering of Scottish for the Friar, a bit twee for Paris, and an aggressive Londoner for the beggar Salvatore. The largest laugh of the evening is brought about by his coy falsetto for an appearance of Juliet herself.
The role of the Player ties everything together around the main scenes between the two fateful lovers. Tommy Sim’aan’s war-mongering Tybalt undergoes the biggest journey. Beginning with macho posturing and showing off his fearsome sword play, we hear that maintaining his aggressive reputation is to secure his position within the house of Capulet. It takes a surprising kiss to throw him off guard and we share his confusion as Sim’aan drops the posturing façade and brings his voice down to a velvet undertone. The power of the kiss brings out the Prince of Cat’s inner kitten and has the strength to potentially end a conflict.
That kiss has come from the wastrel Mercutio as a means to distract Tybalt from seeing and therefore fighting with Romeo (another role for The Player). In a dashing red doublet, Delves plays the wine-happy party animal just on the right side of camp. Mercutio is out for a good time and to live for today until that kiss changes his life too.
The occasional song to the strumming of a mandolin lightens the mood as Tybalt and Mercutio strive to find a future. The three actors work superbly together – there is no weak link. Garnet’s poetry is clearly projected and there is no holding back during the raunchy bits either.
Not since Tom Stoppard’s exploration of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern has there been such an audacious rewrite of Shakespearean off-stage antics.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Pamela Raith
Wilton’s Music Hall until 25th June
Previously reviewed at this venue: