ROMEO AND JULIET – THE RIP-ROARING, CULTURE CLASHING PRODUCTION AT SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE

‘Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,

O anything of nothing first create!

O heavy lightness, serious vanity,

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!’

 

If there was ever a quote from Romeo and Juliet that speaks to the feel of this production, it would be this…but where do I even begin? On one hand, you join the production as it raises its middle finger with a huge FUCK YOU to the Shakespeare purists, demanding your attention in its rip- roaring, culture clashing, loud and abrasive ways. With the other hand, you find yourself scratching your head, wondering how on earth our beloved Shakespeare could be so brazenly vandalised. Either way, I still loved it…allow me to explain why…

Courtesy of the Globe, I found myself sitting smack bang in the centre on the bottom level. This was the most perfect of seats, allowing me to witness the production in its most brilliant and immersive glory, not voyeuristically observing from above, nor standing around the stage’s edges, but watching the magic on an almost eye level, where every scene appeared to be set as the most beautifully atmospheric shot from a fashion editorial. The way the characters used the space was exquisite, with its photographic production value unparalleled to anything I have previously seen at the Globe.

My eyes were immediately drawn to what appeared to be a nuclear warhead above the stage and whilst incredibly brash, I can’t deny that it was an effective way of reminding us of the tragedy to come. Its placement was certainly important, with the production playing on the comical aspects that so many associate with the first half of Romeo and Juliet and so the reminder of this most macabre of threats also puts the play into a rather natural modern context that is furthered by the pumping house music, catapulting the production instantly into a modern day telling. Part of the Globe’s Summer of Love, Kramer pokes fun with a festival of near frivolous futility that cuts superbly against the very serious and very sensitive undercurrents of grotesque greed, capitalism, war and terrorism. The cast are decked in a mixture of fancy dress alongside Dr Martens and Converse, whilst references are seemingly drawn from everything from The Mexican Day of the Dead, A Clockwork Orange and Batman. The Capulet Ball is soundtracked by YMCA and quite strangely it worked.

 

 

Director Daniel Kramer spoke of connecting very early with Romeo’s line ‘Oh I am Fortune’s fool’ and the idea that we are all little clowns trying to survive in a world of fear and hate. The recurrent motif of babies’ coffins and black shrouds foretells tragedy, but it’s hard to take too seriously with the cast quite literally clowning around, brandishing baseball bats and toting toy guns with which they have to actually shout ‘BANG’ to fire. Benvolio, who I found to be charming, comical and tragic in equal measure, is the perfect accomplice to an emo Romeo, however Tybalt simply comes across as a joke. The sense of the surreal was kind of lost with the over indulgence in the comical but this was always going to be a fine line to draw.

 

 

Mercutio as a woman provided moments of pure genius and further shone a light on some of the underlying sexual tension between her and Romeo, as well as hinting at some of her immature sexual obsession with Tybalt. To me however, Tybalt was simply not believable as the villainous wretch that turns the tragic screw in this otherwise carnival like production, however this could well be intentional, challenging our traditional beliefs and showing just how normalised violence has become, something that Daniel Kramer had spoken of. Mercutio’s death almost felt like a scene out of a snuff film and now funnily enough as I write this, I kind of understand what Kramer may have been trying to achieve. This is society in a nutshell really. Some of the most serious and damaging events are glamorised and eroticised in ways that desensitise us; the heavily over indulgent comical overtones might just show how far removed we are from true connection, yet as with comedy, some remarkable truths are highlighted. Particularly interesting to me was Prince’s voiceover, administering justice in a disconnected and desensitised way. No character appeared on stage for this and my initial thought was that of the metaphorical panopticon. Someone is always watching and someone is always pulling strings behind the scenes. Just like the Wizard of Oz, it heightens the dramatic effect and hints at a potentially more disturbing issue in today’s society.

 

 

Let’s speak about Romeo and Juliet themselves; I just didn’t really care that much for Romeo, whilst Juliet’s nervous, impatient energy felt comical at times yet remarkably natural. She made me feel uncomfortable and that is a good thing, displaying the perfect balance of sensitivity and toughness, of having her guard up and being an obsessive crank. Edward Hogg (Romeo) and Kirsty Bushell (Juliet) displayed a sixth sense in their movement and the timings of their witty back and forths. The movement was always going to be key, with Kramer utilising the split scene effect to dramatic perfection, which as Kramer said, reflects the modern mind that is likened to a multi-tasking desktop, with multiple streams of consciousness operating at once. This merging of scenes highlights the effect that violence and tragedy has on others, even if not directly involved and providing some of the connection that we have lost in our modern world. Perhaps I was a little harsh in saying that I didn’t care for Romeo but truth be told, I felt he was dwarfed by the much bigger and bolder characters around him. Stood against the remarkable mixture of teenage/adult anxiety oozed by Juliet, he didn’t really have much of a chance, although he did display some beautiful moments, as well as touches of comedy that worked well in this modern adaptation. The sight of him trudging moodily across the stage wearing headphones and looking like the stereotypical emo, drew laughs all around.

 

 

In a way, Kramer’s production felt like a far more accurate portrayal of tragedy than I initially expected. Whilst things were comically bouncing along, tragedy hit and the mood turned startlingly sour. This is unfortunately, rather like life. This all led up to an extremely harrowing ending and I don’t use that word lightly. Juliet’s utter grief and despair was nowhere near in sync with the allusions to tragedy throughout, but this is what made it all the more traumatic. I personally didn’t really care for Romeo and Juliet’s relationship until the awful deaths at the end and that was when I felt truly invested. Again, Kramer showed us how tragedy can truly hit us from nowhere and it was the overreliance on comedy that made this all the more poignant.

 

 

I have to say though, Kramer’s brazen disregard for tradition actually drew out more meaning in some of Shakespeare’s more challenging language and brought life to some of his famous puns. There were of course times that the extravagant production value and dramatic comical moments served as overkill alongside some of the language, but on the whole, I found it to be remarkably well balanced and this is the kind of production that can really ensnare a new generation of Shakespeare fans. If anything, this production reminded me of just how exquisite and relevant a writer Shakespeare still is, allowing us to tease out new meanings alongside universal symbols and archetypes centuries down the line. It’s important to remember that there is always space to read between the lines and it is productions like this that will serve to keep Shakespeare relevant.

I’ll end with a quote from Daniel Kramer that really gave me the chills:

‘Hence this alchemist, Shakespeare, is one of the most famous artists of all time. He captured the vibration of life in each syllable of his scripts. Our shared task is to release the electricity within. Deep inhale. Here we go!’

With much appreciation to the Globe for the opportunity and for taking such good care of us.

Romeo and Juliet is showing at the Globe until Sunday 9th July. Click here for more information.

 

Words // Gesu Ace
Editor & Creative Director

No Comments