“What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?”
The Faction return to the New Diorama for their now customary annual repertory season, having seriously shaken up their line-up for the first time – just two core ensemble members remaining along with directors Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith. What remains though is an equally serious streak of inventiveness that marks them as one of the more adventurous and exciting theatre companies out there. And it is that sense of innovation that sustains their fresh and spiky Romeo and Juliet which clocks in at a healthy three hours and fifteen minutes.
It may seem like a strange combination – such fidelity to the fullness of the text yet such exploratory theatre-making as led by Valentine Smith – but it provides some lovely moments such as the setting of the Act II prologue to music which is sung beautifully by the full company. Keeping the majority of the company onstage at all times allows for some fascinating, and wordless, extratextual exploration of relationships – the sex and violence of Capulet and Lady Capulet’s tempestuous marriage is compelling to watch and the genuine affection, love even, between the Nurse and Peter makes perfect sense.
I also really liked the intelligent doubling which results in some achingly elegant moments – quick as a flash with a new hat, Tom Brownlee’s Prince investigates the murder of his own Mercutio; similarly Romeo’s anguish over the body of Christopher Tester’s Tybalt transmutes into a comforting embrace from the Friar with the subtlest of onstage costume changes. With such interesting, thought-provoking work as this, it almost seems a perverse choice to go for the full text as well as it adds a lot more words (and running time) but to little substantive additional effect.
Rather, the power comes from The Faction themselves. The brilliant lo-fi intensity of Clare Latham’s Ellen Page-like Juliet (but a bit less, you know, lesbian) who is at once awkward and precocious, the shining ardour of Christopher York’s bluff northern Romeo who is genuinely transformed by love –their silent meet-cute in a brilliantly layered ball scene complete with live video, drunken clubbers and a DJ is just the beginning of their imaginative and exhilarating romance that feels utterly contemporary and thrillingly real.
Christopher Hughes displays hitherto unseen skills and slutdrops as a witty stripper, Kevin McCurdy cleverly replaces swords with copper piping in his tautly energetic fights, Adam Howden makes a heart-rendingly devoted Benvolio – there’s really is much to appreciate here. For me though, I could have done with a heavy edit on the text to better complement the creative work. So an intriguing start to the season which continues with The Talented Mr Ripley and Joan Of Arc.