A new, gender-switched adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is playing at Rose Theatre in Kingston.
With Romeo and Juliet being one of Shakespeare’s most adapted plays and familiar plots, Sally Cookson faced considerable challenge persuading the cultured audience it could work the other way around.
Luckily, the director did not fail to astonish.
The minimalistic stage design set a contemporary atmosphere. Theatre designer Katie Sykes has arranged different levelled platforms to indicate the social hierarchy the play seeks to demonstrate.
Juliet, played by Audrey Brisson, is played as a tomboy, dressed in modern clothes. She is the clear-cut reflection of the twenty-first-century girl: boyish but flirty, naïve but determined.
We also meet a free-spirited Romeo played by Joseph Drake. Sadly his performance lacks energy and it would have been refreshing to see him move away from the classic tragic-stricken Romeo to a more briske type. This harms the dynamic between Romeo and Juliet.
Music director Benji Bower has adapted the notes from ‘The Dance of the Knights’ which can be found in Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet from 1935. This helps maintain the minimalistic atmosphere, but also adds a darkness to it which sometimes complements the play, but unfortunately sometimes obstructs the cast’s lines and overshadows the actors.
However, Sharon Clarke, playing Juliet’s nurse, sings magnificently and her acting contributes to making the play captivating and occasionally funny. Her vocal performance almost makes the play worth seeing just in itself.
Another actor who stood out was Laura Elphinstone in her role as a gender-switched Mercutio, one of Romeo’s closest friends. She brought life to the stage with her ardent, bona fide attitude and the famous line “A plague o’both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me!” was remarkably delivered.
Cookson’s ambition to represent love beyond a romanticized teenage tragedy and place it amid social boilerplate and archaic hatred denied the play a proper climax. Romeo and Juliet were given a fast, short death illuminated by lightsabers.
To book or buy tickets, visit http://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/ or call 020 8174 0090.