Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Globe, London

Lovers led a merry dance
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The Independent Culture

All productions of plays by Shakespeare at the Globe end with the company executing a spirited jig - however harrowing the preceding story. Like the satyr play that rounded off, as a subversive fourth piece, the tragic trilogies in Greek theatre, this Elizabethan practice was an assertion that life went on, and that even the most shocking look into the heart of darkness needed to be put into a broader, more fortifying perspective.

All productions of plays by Shakespeare at the Globe end with the company executing a spirited jig - however harrowing the preceding story. Like the satyr play that rounded off, as a subversive fourth piece, the tragic trilogies in Greek theatre, this Elizabethan practice was an assertion that life went on, and that even the most shocking look into the heart of darkness needed to be put into a broader, more fortifying perspective.

Apparently, in Shakespeare's day, these high-spirited codas could go on for as long as half an hour and incorporate much improvisation. At the Globe, they are telescoped into a few minutes, but their effect on an audience's apprehension of the whole event is out of all proportion to their duration. Of course, the Elizabethans were cannily commercial about theatre, a fact that is in no way incompatible with the most high-minded ambitions. A cynic might claim that the terminal jig is just a ploy to whip up a last-minute frenzy of applause - and that what the modern public is responding to is largely its own relief that the damn antique play is over. A cynic would be wrong.

The curious power of this phenomenon is felt keenly at the close of Tim Carroll's Romeo and Juliet, the production that kicks off this year's Globe season in attractive, if somewhat low-key, style. Given that this is a tragedy of cruelly premature deaths caused by the prejudice of the parental generation, it's a piercing sight here when, in a fresh twist, the bodies of the hero and heroine are tenderly taken down from the tomb and propped up facing each other for a long moment of eye-to-eye suspension. Then, as the music kicks in, those bodies, as it were, magically defrost, take each other by the hand and embark on the joyous, disciplined abandon of a dance that shifts from a poignant what-might-have-been to a what-is, in this strange alternative reality of the postscript jig.

True, it's an "original practices" Romeo and Juliet that is stronger on charm and comedy than on poetic intensity. Not many of the performances have the emotional depth of Melanie Jessop's excellently conflicted Lady Capulet, herself, it seems, a casualty of the arranged marriage. With his likeably squashed profile and boyish demeanour, Tom Burke's Romeo looks and sounds, in his awkward, bashful response to Juliet's ardour, like a William Brown outlaw suddenly propelled into Renaissance love-making. The effect is droll, and the accent for a while is on the ridiculous ways in which circumstance foils romance, as when the distance between the balcony and the foot of a pillar leaves the couple straining vainly to touch hands in the play's most famous scene.

Kananu Kirimi's Juliet looks lovely, and brings a delightful West Indian burr and spontaneity to the verse, but as the play moves into darkness, she doesn't always observe the distinction between seeming impelled as a character and rushed as an actor. Bette Bourne brings his unique talents to a portrayal of the Nurse that has pantomime dame at its base and then adds layers of delicious snobbery, solicitude and self-absorption. The gruff voice makes you feel that her connections are more with the underworld than some 16th-century knitting circle.

To 26 September (020-7401 9919)

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