York International Shakespeare Festival is off to a cracking start this year, with performances scattered all across this historic city enticing local folk to indulge in a slice of dramatic culture. York Theatre Royal of course lead the way in this endeavour, displaying two of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays, the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet and the frightfully comedic Twelfth Night.
The Watermill Theatre in Berkshire are the architects responsible for these pieces and should be commended for their attempt at evolving a set of well known texts and breathing new life into each, yet not losing the essence of Shakespeare’s meaning. The performance of Romeo and Juliet is set in a sort of American style bar, that acts as a music venue and private accommodation for the Capulet family throughout. The cast, many times break free of this space in both performances and lure in audience members from the front row and around, whether they like it or not, to keep the piece inclusive. Involving and toying with the audience, using the text to appeal to more than their fellow actors, which is respected by all I can imagine.
However, in this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, I am concerned by the casts obvious love for comedy and experimentation, as although this works well for a piece like Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy. This piece should bring you close to tears as you get to know the lovers and their devotion for each other that you begin to care for their well being as human beings. Yes, it’s that deep! However, I feel the way this is conveyed is a tad immature, with characters playing the same objective or emotion over again. With all this being said, there are moments of real potential. The Nurse, played by Lauryn Redding, is bubbly and almost Catherine Tate like in comedy value, as is the actress Victoria Blunt, who plays Benvolio, whose drunken exploits would leave a nasty hangover in the morning. A positive also is the amount of musical content inserted throughout the piece, from hard hitting rock to smooth scaling funk with a Watermill Theatre twist, that highlights the casts obvious skill at playing and rearranging music. So overall, although the final death scene and loved up protagonists will leave you a little cold, the music is the definite spice that kicks the show up to a quirky new level.
Soon after Twelfth Night is also put on by this obviously hard working cast, whose memories must be in a state of disrepair. This performance is in a totally different league to Romeo and Juliet. The way that it is energetic, plays to the casts strong sense of comedy and better still the Charleston like post WW1 music vibe is a definite winner. As is actor Peter Dukes, who plays Malvolio, who definitely lets himself go in this slightly camp version of the ‘yellow stockings’ and ‘cross gartered’ speech, let’s just say we don’t need to imagine this image as all is revealed, quite literally, on stage. Plus, I never thought I would ever hear Malvolio, or for that fact any Shakespearean male, sing Lorde’s Royals, but it happens and it bizarrely works in a very musical theatre type way. This performance gets close to the point of absurdity, but lures you in and makes you just roll with the characters energy. Twelfth Night has a classic Great Gatsby twist- don’t forget your top hat and tails!
Overall, despite the lack of emotional connection in one of the two pieces, The Watermill Theatre bring an impressive and quirky new flavour to Shakespeare’s classic plays. The Globe Theatre on the Southbank is not the only spot for new and exciting Shakespearean productions, and this is proven clearly by the Watermill cast. Some minuses, but plenty of pluses!
Review written by Luke Redhead.
Romeo and Juliet was shown at the York Theatre Royal from Monday 16th until Friday 20th May. For more information on The Watermill Theatre, visit here…
Twelfth Night was shown at the York Theatre Royal from Wednesday 18th until Friday 20th May. For more information on The Watermill Theatre, visit here…