17 September to 17 October 2015
Reviewed by Sam Royle
There’s almost as much Shameless as there is Shakespeare in Jonathan Humphreys’ new production of Romeo and Juliet. The plazas and campaniles of Renaissance Verona have been replaced with telegraph poles and rubbish-strewn steps, and it’s with a thickly lyrical Scouse accent that Sampson, after rousing himself from a (presumably) drunken stupor, delivers the opening prologue. All of which serves, of course, to better frame the beauty of Romeo, Juliet and the tragedy that is about to befall them.
Freddie Fox, as Romeo, switches easily between the polarities of adolescence, one moment wearily winsome, the next magnetically petulant as he twists and twitches around stage, engaging the audience in his crystalline monologues, endearing us to him even as he roils in the emotional excesses of youth. Morfydd Clark’s Juliet is more grounded, precociously streetwise even, yet touchingly vulnerable during the balcony scene and bewitched by the turbulent passions of any thirteen-year-old, whether that be in sixteenth-century Verona or someplace such as this, which is more akin to Shane Meadows’ blistered nineties.
Humphreys’ contemporary setting casts into cold relief the flaws of each character (the self-regard and misogyny of Mercutio, especially, is shockingly clear) without ever sacrificing the play’s emotional core. But there is light relief too. Peter, the Capulet’s servant, is played hilariously in a knowingly high camp manner, whilst Rachel Lumberg as Nurse is a delight. Drawing on the matriarchs of Coronation Street, Alan Bennett and a deep thread of northern comedy, she enters the fray all heaving bosom and backyard chatter. Following Tybalt’s death, however, Lumberg’s performance acquires gravitas and heft as the romance tilts into tragedy. Indeed, it could be said that from this point on, she, along with the Friar (excellently played on her theatre debut by Charlie Bate), provide a female heart around which Fox and Clark dramatically revolve.
This, then, is Shakespeare recalibrated for a post-feminist, austerity Britain. Gang violence, emigration, street harassment and the disenfranchisement of northern Britain are all contemporary issues that resonate throughout the production, and yet it remains, as always, focussed on the biggest themes of all: love, growth and death.
Tickets cost from £17 to £25 (booking fees may apply).
Romeo & Juliet is at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield until 17 October 2015. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Crucible Theatre, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000