We walked through the pouring rain and down a little alley to be greeted by Temple Church, its majesty emphasised by the dark and inclement weather. Ushered in, we took our seats with only the supine effigies of the Knight Templars who built the church between the stage and us. Antic Disposition chose to follow the building’s shape and place the performance in the round, the sculpted heads on the curved walls peering into the centre of the space with us. At that point, it was hard to think of a better setting for this tale of “death-mark’d love”.
The simplicity of the stage let the building and the actors do the work for it, with just one raised platform in the middle to serve as an altar, bed and dance floor. Romeo – Dylan Kennedy – and Juliet – Bryony Tebbutt – made a funny pair; Juliet seemed too old and Romeo too young, his love gentle and, at times, oddly uncomfortable. The scenes in which they were apart felt more real than those in which they were together. Neither actor was bad but, as a couple, they lacked passion and flair.
Romeo’s youthful nature did however emphasise his fickle nature, as he wallowed pathetically, fooled by his lust for Rosaline and then moving swiftly onto Juliet upon their first meeting. This was a dimension of his character I hadn’t appreciated before and Kennedy played with it well. A pair who did have chemistry was Mercutio and Benvolio. There was a real sense of comradery between the whole Montague crew in fact and it was Mercutio’s death that struck me as most tragic. The relationships between the Capulets also had a greater authenticity than the star crossed lovers; Juliet’s foolish father tricked by his daughter’s duplicitous actions.
One of my favourite characters was Juliet’s nurse who was both tender and amusing. Her performance was only marginally tarnished by an overegging of the comedy; her silly headscarf, for example, did her no favours. The shape of the church meant that many of the words were lost in the dome. I didn’t see much problem in the loss of a few words of such a familiar script but there was plenty of muttering about it at the interval.
For those that felt the loss was costly, the addition of music that went even further to eclipsing Shakespeare’s words would have been infuriating. At times, the music added to the tension, not least during the closing scene where the cast raised their umbrellas as they mourned the loss of their children. Though I am unsure if the ambient sound of raindrops was coming from outside, it created a poignant and effective end. I left satisfied. The building was the real show for me, the play merely a pleasant backdrop. 3.5/5
Review written by Harry Davies.
Romeo and Juliet is currently showing at the Temple Church until Sunday 7th September. For more information on the production, visit here…
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