The daring young man on the flying trapeze is Shakespeare's Romeo, who proves that he is quite literally head-over-heels in love with Juliet in this acrobatic circus version of the play, brought to the Young Vic by Vesturport Theatre, from Iceland.
In trying to get the hormones whizzing again in a play that often feels done to death, this company takes a wildly contrasting approach to New York's Splinter Group, which is concurrently performing Shakespeare's R & J at the Arts Theatre. The latter production derives its dangerous charge and intensity by imagining what might happen if four young men in a repressive Catholic boarding school were to stumble on this banned text and start to act it out in the secrecy of the dorm.
You get a wonderful purity of focus and telling mirrored ironies in their play-within-a-play account. There's no comparable thoughtfulness in the barmy, broad-brush-stroke exuberance of Vesturport's version, where the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers takes to the air in a succession of strikingly executed aerial antics and slapstick so broad it's a wonder they haven't had to widen the theatre.
It's not the first time that a visiting foreign company has pulled the play off the ground. In a mid-Nineties production by the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, the balcony episode was staged with Romeo and Juliet swinging on trapezes, hers tantalisingly out of his reach. That, though, was a lyrical local effect in a staging otherwise set in a concrete bunker with Clockwork Orange-style gangs.
Here, Verona is a circus throughout, with performers leaping off diving boards, or fire-eating, or somersaulting over the traverse stage. When Romeo (played by the dauntingly fit Gisli Gom Gadarrson, who also directs) tells Juliet (Nina Dogg Filipussdottir) that "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls", he is not being fanciful. Soaring across to meet her, he's as good as his word.
The proceedings kick off in Icelandic. It's the kind of tease that appeals to Vikinggur Kristjansson's Peter, whose much-expanded role is now that of nutty ring master with an alarming line in audience participation and planted jokes. A warning to any Germans who might be planning a visit: either don't go, or remember to take your sense of humour. The language shift to English results in verse-speaking that deserves more praise for pluck and politeness than for range of colour or sensitivity. But then again, whole swathes of the text have been cut, including the lovely post-coital aubade sequence that here becomes a poignant aerial ballet on the ring that represents Juliet's bedroom.
The production often has the atmosphere of an end-of- term romp. The Nurse is played by a beefy fat man with a beard and false breasts who, at one point, has to cover his dangly bits when discovered naked. In a Crimplene suit and frilly pink shirt, Paris becomes a cheesy crooning lounge-singer. The Capulets' ball becomes a rave, danced to a disco remix of Prokofiev's ballet music and, in a droll touch, the Friar puffs on a joint and sees a loin-clothed statue of Christ come to distinctly camp life.
As will be clear, this is not for purists, but there's method in some of the madness. It's a neat twist that Juliet's parents behave more puerilely than any of Verona's adolescents. The death scene, beautifully performed on ropes of parachute silk, is a stunning jolt into sobriety.
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