Unaccustomed to proving his manhood by his ability to please a woman rather than by tussling with other boys, Stephen Moyer's Romeo is quick to disdain the weakness of love. Enraged at his own folly in trying to make Tybalt and Mercutio see sweet reason, he tears out the most heartfelt line of the evening: 'O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate, / And in my temper softened valour's steel]' That type of manhood, however, is not one this tremulous Romeo can long sustain. After the murder of Tybalt, he blubbers desperately at the Friar, clutching his sleeve and hiding his face in it. As Juliet, Tara Woodward is a bit self- regarding in the love scenes, but gains power as doom closes in.
Not all of Retallack's innovations are a good idea. I missed the point of having some of the actors not involved in a scene sit patiently on the sidelines, as if waiting for a job interview; and, with the premium put on restless energy, the sweetness and lyricism of the verse are given short shrift. But there are many fresh and powerful effects: the solemnity is taken out of the balcony scene by having the lovers frantically climbing up and down to get to each other, and missing every time; the musicians for the wedding feast play louder and louder as the nurse's screams rise too, when she discovers the dead bride. This Romeo and Juliet may be weak on the mysterious aspects of the play (in the sense that love is a mystery), but its vehemence serves its theme well: it knows who the villains are.
The Playhouse, Oxford. Booking: 0865 798600
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