Rupert Goold's tempestuous yet tender production of Romeo and Juliet is more or less everything that the rave notices claimed when it premiered in Stratford last spring.
True, the flamboyant Goold sometimes seems to operate on the principle that if a thing is worth doing it is worth overdoing. Here, the mood of literally combustible danger he creates in the scenes of savage, torch-lit street-fighting fails to resist camp excess as giant flames leap repeatedly from the ground and jets of steam gust violently through vents. I also found myself wanting to train a fire-extinguisher on the fey counter-tenor who warbles dull patches of exposition and on the strenuously knock-'em-dead bravura of the dances at the Capulets' golden-masked ball.
Goold's central conceit is to emphasise the isolation of the star-crossed lovers through a differentiation of dress. While all around them are arrayed in lavish Elizabethan costume, they wear the modern mufti of T-shirts, jeans and trainers. At first, I thought the idea was going to be carried too far. A parka-clad Romeo is discovered listening to an audio-guide to Verona Cathedral. Set apart he may be, but he's not a gap-year tourist.
Happily, the notion is then developed with poignancy and wit. It enables Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale – both of them unconventionally sexy and both excellent – to reach to us with a heart-piercing naturalness and immediacy. A gawky adolescent who matures into a stricken realist, Gale's Juliet shifts seamlessly between "doh"-generation stroppiness and rhetorical rapture. Troughton's Romeo has the smack of a Hamlet struck by the thunderbolt of love.
The electric Jonjo O'Neill must be the most compulsively pornographic Mercutio on record, his outrageous slapstick mime of a journey through the uterus one of the highlights of a thrilling, risky evening.
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