As Emma Rice’s term as the Globe’s Artistic Director comes to an end, she’s certainly planning on going out with a bang. This is a noisy, vibrant production of Romeo and Juliet, which will infuriate her critics and delight her fans.
This is Shakespeare re-imagined by Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick, with nightclub dancers, black costumes and clownish makeup. There is a great deal of shouting and chewing the scenery, along with dabbing, twerking and a far-too-long version of the YMCA.
A lot of the clowning transfers into the supporting performances, which are rarely understated. It makes for an occasionally exhausting evening; the scenes with Mercutio and Benvolio are rendered useless due to continuous peripheral nonsense, as are the normally poignant words from Lady Capulet.
The fight scenes resemble a Christian Aguilera video, meaning the death of Mercutio is robbed of any sense of drama or context. It is like watching a departing two fingers to the theatre establishment; giving a supersized version of everything the Globe board will clearly hate. There is a sense of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks; sometimes it works but often the scenery upstages the text.
It is a great shame that this takes the attention away from the two leads, who are wonderful throughout. Romeo is portrayed as an angst ridden and lovestruck emo teen, played with real skill by Edward Hogg. He is the funniest Romeo I have ever seen and makes beautiful work of Romeo’s poetry during the balcony scene.
Kirsty Bushell’s Juliet is also a real treat, perfectly conveying the awkwardness and tentativeness of young love. The scenes between the pair are always entertaining and tender; the second half is noticeably better when they have centre stage; in one scene generate more sparks than a million knob jokes (of which there are many).
Soutra Gilmour’s costumes are wonderfully grimy and punkish, whilst there is some inventive staging and audience participation. There is also some nifty rewrites by director Daniel Kramer; scenes are merged and staged in parallel to maintain the play’s relentless energy.
The audience certainly had a good night; the evening I went a large school party was enthralled even in the bitter cold. This production clearly brings Shakespeare to a new audience and for that it should be applauded, however more heart and less grunge would make this a more enjoyable experience.