Hewitt’s Romeo and Juliet affords this young cast a wonderful opportunity to create a unique interpretation, bringing Shakespeare once more into a more contemporary setting.

Romeo and JulietWhat a gift to be working on a play about young people with a young company!

So says Kate Hewitt about directing this quintessential Shakespeare for teenagers for the National Youth Theatre. Hewitt goes on to explain how important it was to explore those explosive moments of adolescence with this young cast. Romeo and Juliet is a National Youth Production currently playing at the Ambassadors Theatre and what a strong production team there is to make a setting fit to show off the future jewels of British theatre.

The direction from Hewitt makes it clear at all times where each character is placed and what their objectives are. Hewitt has chosen to set the play in 1950’s post-war Britain. The era of Teddy Boys with its rival gangs and the news of 1956 being closely aligned to current affairs make this an interesting choice.

This Romeo and Juliet has been abridged very intelligently by Owen Horsley. Particularly interesting are the scenes that now are superimposed upon each other in both time and space. One such is the juxtaposition of Juliet and the Nurse with the banishment of Romeo. It becomes very clear what the outcome of parental machinations is upon the young lovers when they are in the space together, yet apart.

Romeo and JulietThe opening scene is striking. The cast stands on a set that simply and effectively shifts to give an abstract form to place. Designer Cecilia Carey has chosen a monochromatic palette of hanging drapes and moving set pieces. The angles and spaces made are perfect for the lighting design of Elliot Griggs to play and sculpt the actors into beings from another world and for the costumes of Helena Bonner to pop.

Subtly and sometimes energetically supporting this mix is a sumptuous sound and music plot devised by Dom James and Tommy Antonio. In the opening scene, the cast move to their familiar beats and most of the fight scenes are portrayed in movement, colour and light.

The cast appears to revel in the riches of the production, as they ought. On then to the raison d’etre for this production: the performers. The cast of nineteen young people were selected from hundreds of hopeful actors to participate in a training program and performance opportunities to nurture their talent. In its 60th year, the National Youth Theatre boasts an alumni of theatre greats including Dame Helen Mirren to name just one.

0000000rj1Horsley’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is a strong ensemble piece but obviously the title roles are of particular focus. Romeo is here played by James Mace. Mace is charming and totally believable in his insouciant approach to love, life and friendship. His Juliet is Shalisha James-Davis who delivers the famous ‘take him and cut him out in little stars’ speech with sincerity. James-Davis warms throughout the beginning scenes but really hits her stride in her mastery of the depth of later speeches.

In the supporting roles  Arianna Beadie delights as Nurse as she cheekily aids and abets Juliet in her quest to be with Romeo. Beadie shows a fine sense of timing and character development.

0000000rj5Romeo’s friends are similarly endearing. Benvolio, played by Shiv Jalota, handles the modern adaptation particularly well. Kwami Odoom (Mercutio) is strong in conversation with his friends, but his longer monologue is not of the same standard and lacks energy and through line of thought.  Sadly, this trait is rather endemic in the company.

In an effort to delineate age difference more clearly in a uniformly young cast, Hewitt has crafted the older characters to appear as the younger generation would perceive them. To that end they become slightly grotesque, almost pantomime characters and the device works well.

Romeo and JulietNatahsa Heliotis and Feliz Mackenzie-Barrow are Lord and Lady Capulet – divinely sophisticated. They perform the party scene as a cabaret number, complete with dancing boys, with flair and style. The relationship between the couple is yet to be developed fully but both actors are strong as individuals and their relationship with their daughter Juliet is clear. For the Montagues, Catrin Walker-Booth makes a stunning opening impression appearing like a movie star of the 50’s.

The pivotal role of Friar Laurence is played by Joshua Lyster-Downer whose stunning presence augments a fine characterization. Michael Kinsey gives the Prince a menacing aura that matches his Nazi like apparel and a highlight of one of the dance numbers is provided by Nathaniel Wade in the role of Paris, the would-be suitor of Juliet.

Romeo and JulietThe remaining cast acquit themselves well in multiple roles without any of them standing out in the small parts they have been assigned. They add what is necessary to the play with their enthusiasm, dance skills and professionalism.

Hewitt’s Romeo and Juliet affords this young cast a wonderful opportunity to create a unique interpretation, bringing Shakespeare once more into a more contemporary setting.

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Romeo and Juliet
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Viola Patrick
Viola has been obsessed with all things theatre since she was young and first encountered the Les Miserables soundtrack. Totally hooked, Viola later studied Theatre at Reading University, where she was able to perform on stage, as well as writing and directing her own material. She has written theatre reviews for newspapers and magazines and is looking forward to joining the exciting world of LivetheatreUK.com and online reviewing.