2015 marks a significant birthday for one of the most celebrated playwrights off all time. Shakespeare‘s works have been adapted and performed for centuries, having inspired the likes of Hollywood to famous paintings. This year has seen various companies and venues taking part in the birthday celebrations, from the London Globe Theatre announcing a worldwide tour of Hamlet to the National Theatre of Edinburgh and London producing the James plays trilogy. The East London Shakespeare Company, founded by Jesse Ayertey bridges the gap between Shakespeare and the younger generation with their adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
The most famous love story to have ever graced the stage, Romeo and Juliet chronicles the ill fated romance between two love struck teenagers, which sadly becomes overshadowed by the constant feuding between both of their households. The ancient tale leaves its traditional location of Verona and lands in the sunnier climes of South Africa, as the Montagues, a traditional South African tribe battle with the Capulets, a British Colonial family. With this year also marking the 20th year of the late Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as the South African President, and the end of apartheid, this directorial decision to set Romeo and Juliet in this political climate is a very powerful concept, however isn’t stressed enough through out the performance. Apart from the traditional face paint and african robes worn by the Montagues and the western suits and dresses worn by the Capulets, not enough reference is made to the fact that the play is set in South Africa.
Christien Bart-Gittens‘ sails along the stormy production as the chilled and youthful teenager Romeo, however misses the heartache and drive needed for the hero. Hannah Ban see Westhuysen‘s Juliet is angelic and independent, but the romance between the leads lacks the heightened drama that should inevitably move the audience to tears. Emma Fisher‘s Mercutio embodies the very meaning of the character’s name, she’s mercurial, unpredictable and fiery, a joy to watch whilst Alison Williams-Bailey‘s Nurse is brought to life, child like one moment, matriarchal the next, a strong performance that leaves you rooting for her character. What the East London Shakespeare Company does is contemporise Shakespearean classics, bringing them to a younger generation of theatre goers who may other wise believe that the well known playwrights work is off limits, of a completely different world. The concept is a clever one, however needs to have more emphasis placed upon it. 3/5
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
Romeo and Juliet was shown at the Rose and Crown Theatre from Monday 24th until Saturday 29th November. For more information on the East London Shakespeare Company, visit here…