Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Star-crossed and fatally miscast
Monday 04 May 2009
The "two hours traffic of our stage" is, as usual in Romeo and Juliet, which opens the new season at Shakespeare's Globe, more like three hours. And Dominic Dromgoole's production is stuck in a few jams of its own devising: notably a great big hole in the middle of the road heading towards the star-crossed lovers' tragedy.
There's a pleasing athleticism to Adetomiwa Edun's Romeo, but he's fuzzy-voiced and emotionally monotonous. It's almost impossible to comprehend why he changes horses between Rosaline and Juliet. Edun's a 25 year-old Etonian, well favoured in appearance, but hopelessly underpowered for the role, and far too pleasant and ingratiating.
His Juliet is equally inexperienced, a prim little speedy lapwing in Ellie Kendrick's performance who's neither girlish nor sexually adolescent. The actress recently played Anne Frank in a tea-time television adaptation.
It's just her luck that her post-coital smooch is conducted on a raised platform with a railing like that of a seaside promenade and she gets lover boy's rope ladder twisted on its fastening. Her bounty is as boundless as the sea? Oh no it isn't, and her delivery of "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds" is about as exciting as a stable girl calling her charges at a point-to-point.
Both actors will go on to other and better things, but they're miscast here. Dromgoole has more success with the street scenes, which have a fine brawling intensity thanks to Malcolm Ranson's fight arrangements, and especially with the music, which bathes the action, in Nigel Hess's arrangements, in madrigals and villanellas set to poems by Walter Raleigh and Torquato Tasso.
These items are delivered by the self-named Codpiece Quartet of actors who pop up in other minor roles, notably, in the case of Jack Farthing, as a striking Benvolio. Farthing's a professional stage debutant, as are Kendrick and the frowning Ukweli Roach as Tybalt, whose revenge murder finds Romeo banished. Another eye-catching performance – wonderfully audible, too – is that of the New Zealand-Maori actor Rawiri Paratene as Friar Lawrence, managing to make his dogged assistance in the lovers' plight seem not like a bad case of pious meddling. A rare achievement.
The final disaster and mishaps in the vault are awkwardly done here, taking place around a spiral staircase and in full lighting, with Juliet stretched out on a slab like a tomb sculpture.
She's dug her own grave, anyway, in her squealing teenage tantrums with her dad, Ian Redford's imposing Capulet, who is well partnered by Miranda Foster playing Lady Capulet. The scenes of Juliet's disobedience are her best, prostrate in apology when she buys deceptively into the plan to marry Tom Stuart's angular Paris.
The performance of the night, though, comes from Penny Layden as the Nurse. Far removed from the fussing tradition of comic garrulity and the Patricia Routledge factor, Layden plays her as a scrubbed, middle-aged, sensible woman carrying a history of sadness. The bawdy assault on her by Philip Cumbus's melancholy Mercutio is both shocking and plausible, and she retains her quiet dignity while at the same time mourning its sacrifice.
Simon Daw's design for the open and awkwardly pillared stage ends up as a strange mixture of Elizabethan costumes and an Ikea-like wooden boarded upper level. The front apron is less successfully exploited than it has been in past seasons. Early days, though.
To 23 August in rep (020-7401 9919; www.shakespeares-globe.org)
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