“Everything in extremity”
It’s something of a shame that the shadow of Emma Rice’s torrid experience as AD of the Globe looms large over her second (and final) season there. The opening production in the ‘Summer of Love’ is Daniel Kramer’s Romeo and Juliet and following Rice’s lead, it is bold and brash, full of light and sound, and the kind of ferocious energy that you can easily imagine raising the hackles once again of those influential precious few.
And as such, it’s a production that encapsulates the wide-ranging issues of such a radical approach. With its YMCA dance routines and clown make-up, dinosaur costumes and middle-aged lovers, Kramer clearly has no problem in roughing up Shakespeare. And it’s no secret that the Bard can take it, one of the smartest innovations here is to run scenes in parallel – the marriage is intercut with the deaths that doom it, action and reaction played out simultaneously.
To coin a phrase though, so much sound and fury also works against the play. The frantic, sarcastic ethos mitigates against the kind of emotional investment you expect to have in a tragedy – it’s funny yes, hilarious at times in its audacity, but too infrequently does it tug at the heart-strings. The bluntness of the verse-speaking will likely be blamed by some but for me, the heavy-handed attempts at re-characterisation were more at fault.
The skill of Martina Laird is wasted as Lady Capulet, Golda Roshuevel’s Mercutio makes hardly any of the impact that re-gendering the character could possess, Edward Hogg’s surly emo youth of a Romeo ends up difficult to watch, even the amazeballs Kirsty Bushell gets sucked in the awkwardness as a precious Juliet. She is allowed to find some real gravitas in the (relative) uncluttered simplicity of the climax but only because you feel the box of tricks has finally been emptied.
Ultimately, this isn’t an unenjoyable Romeo and Juliet, it is too bonkers to really hate, but equally it is hard to love it too. And that’s when you wonder why it is here, provoking such reactions as it is bound to feels like an unnecessary exercise.