The Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works festival kicked off this week: an excitingly ambitious bonanza including visiting troupes from all over the globe. So, naturally, AD Michael Boyd isn't going to open with a piece of ill-conceived, C-rate RSC fare is he. Is he?
Director Nancy Meckler's Romeo and Juliet initially looks scruffy yet beautiful. Huge rusting girders frame and jut across the action. We appear to be in some run-down Latin city with suggestions of a film set or alfresco theatre performance. A dead tree lies amidst scattered chairs and vintage spotlights. The cast sit round watching - when not up on a central plinth surrounded by a carpet of blood-red petals. Maybe this riven community are learning a collective lesson by re-enacting the tragedy.
Meckler has previously (with Shared Experience) excelled at physical theatre, and she produces a poignant final image here. As the bereaved promise to raise a commemorative statue, Rupert Evans' lithe Romeo and Morven Christie's petite Juliet rise from the tomb like sleepwalkers, and stand enfolded in one another's arms. Elsewhere, however, Meckler doesn't fully develop their natural tenderness. More often she seems painfully clumsy, failing to fine-tune the details, letting searing lines be raced over and turning the Latin setting into a multicultural pickle, with Sorcha Cusack's unfunny Irish nurse and some frankly silly tap-cum-Morris dancing stave fights. Wait for better.
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