A gender-swapped Romea and Julian at the Bread and Roses Theatre lacks the specificity to really make you root for these star cross’d lovers
“Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads.
Take it in what sense thou wilt”
It’s a bold move to open the same show in the same week as the RSC. Erica Whyman’s contemporary Romeo and Juliet is a slick success but Purple Ostrich’s interpretation certainly matches, if not exceeds, it in ambition with its gender-swapped Romea and Julian here at the Bread and Roses tucked away off Clapham High Street.
Directed by Laura Kressly, there’s much to admire in this gender-bending free-wheeling adaptation. An all-female company of three take on all the supporting roles with a fresh and ferocious sense of fun – the performative disinterest of Acushla-Tara Kupe’s mike-wielding Lady Capulet being a real standout, alongside Elham Mayhoub’s Nurse.
But there’s a curious lack of specificity to the world of this play that undermines some of the impact of the gender flip. The virulence of the opening scene sets us in a feasible world of girl-on-girl crime but from there, we never really get to know why these Montagues and Capulets hate each other so, what is the driving force that leads R+J to such desperate action.
As that leading pair, Isabelle Schuler and Jamal Franklin offer up some thought-provoking work that asks its audience to really think about how gender roles shape our thinking. I wasn’t entirely sold that Schuler’s freewheeling bisexual would be so instantly entranced by Franklin’s tender naïf but is that me or society talking…
Either way, a stronger sense of time and place would help to anchor the production (marketing hints at glam-rock seemed to go for naught too) and amplify its emotional landscape so that we really buy into this tragic romance.