Pubescent obsession and mental illness? Or true love? A tale told a million and one times. More referenced than any other work of fiction and rings a bell even to the Shakespeare illiterate. Romeo & Juliet have captured a generation’s imagination time and time again. Now it is EUSC’s turn to adapt the canon.
Edinburgh University’s Shakespeare Company brings its tenth annual production to the Pleasance. It begins with two body bags centre stage, a looming presence of fate. The ominous image is placed on a set stripped to the bare bones. Ensuring nothing distracts from the actors or their story. Simple props and furniture were used, of course including a white window frame.
The thrust staging meant I could see the fight scenes close up meaning nowhere to hide mistakes. The performers seemed to revel in this challenge. With the well-timed distractions and accurate noises, my eyes darted over the chaos and hit all the right marks. The amazingly well-hid blood packs and choreography really impressed me. Even managing to make the audience wince and groan with thuds and splashes of blood. They used the space well, even applying the usual no-no ‘backs to audience’ at pivotal times but due to staging worked very effectively.
Romeo and friends enter the stage wearing school uniforms, a laddish group of drunken jokers with all their bravado and takeaways. An accurate representation of Romeo’s crew in the modern times. The blue ties along with well placed trouser stripes and belts, made me believe this adaptation was following the traditional red and blue colours for the Capulets and Montagues. I was even impressed to see Romeo remove his colour after meeting Juliet for the first time. But the colours became lost. Montagues with red socks but more glaringly the Nurse, Juliet and her mother all wearing blue. This became very distracting.
I managed to sit closest to the stage then at the back for Act three. In both positions the cast’s diction was quite clear which for Shakespeare is a must. Douglas Clark and Eliza Lawrence stand their own as Romeo and Juliet, thankfully never going over-the-top hysterics, but allowing the words the air to breathe. Lawrence in particular managed to portray a maturity to Juliet’s desperation and stirred sympathy for her heart-break. Will Peppercorn perfectly achieved Mercutio’s childish wit and whimsy with his great use of voice and clowning. Kirsten Millar’s doting Nurse effectively adapts the lovable Scottish Auntie whom the audience loved. Lucy Davidson captured the serene upper class, whose voice was the best RP in the cast. Billy Slater and Joe Christie added a lovable comic charm to the piece and really shone, we all wanted to see more of them.
The fourth act slowed its pace right down. In the case of the set changes, I believed it aired the tension and intensity quite well but the actors and lines also slowed right down which made the scenes drag unnecessarily. This meant the reactions to the many deaths, lost their genuine feeling at times and the franticness to find the ‘star crossed lovers’ was completely lost. The audience couldn’t believe in the stakes at the very end.
But overall this production showcased some real talent and was a professional, enjoyable experience.