Romeo And Juliet, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

They're wild in their frustrated anticipation, unfettered in their experience of newly discovered love. They supply an unstoppable emotional intensity that lifts the pace of the production.

Murray cites Italian movies as his inspiration, but there's little feel here of La Dolce Vita or any other Italian neorealist film. Evidence of spiritual decay and moral depravity is minimal, though some images convey something of, say, Fellini's style. Simmering violence erupts in clashing sword-fights, convincingly arranged by Malcolm Ranson, and Lord Capulet (Paul Herxberg) turns a bit nasty and brutish when his daughter defies him. Otherwise there's little sense of the extravagance and outrageous eccentricity of the period's culture, though 1960s Italian youth style is there in a brief appearance of the boys on Vespa scooters.

The designer Ellen Cairns drapes white gauze over the production like a shroud; it is used as sheets hung out to dry, as a canopy over the lovers' bed, as a wedding dress. Pieces of a Palladian villa façade convey the Capulets' status, and a stone Madonna stands in the corner of the square.

Garfield's Romeo comes over as a brooding, sensitive boy, older than his years, Andrew Buchan is excellent as a vivacious Mercutio and hot-blooded aggression colours Faz Singhateh's Tybalt. Maggie McCarthy's earthy Nurse enjoys a good-natured alliance with Mbatha-Raw's endearing Juliet.

The rest of the characters are usually well defined with a cool Paris (Joseph Thomson) showing as much emotion as plaster of Paris on the death of his bride. Gordon Langford-Rowe is a dignified heart-broken Lord Montague, while Lady Capulet (Pooky Quesnel) looks emotionally adrift. As Friar Laurence, John Watts is stern but kindly, his speaking of Shakespeare's words a lesson in clarity.

To 22 October (0161-833 9833)

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