Gary Owen’s Romeo and Julie is a powerful tale of working class love at the National Theatre
“I’m too exhausted to be brilliant”
It’s not abundantly clear quite why Gary Owen chose to use Shakespearean inspiration as the springboard for his latest play Romeo and Julie, now at the National Theatre in a co-production with Sherman Theatre where it will go in April. In case there’s any doubt, it is Romeo and Juliet inspiring this modern love story but I’d argue that it is almost superfluous, certainly Owen has the skill to conjure such a world in and of itself.
As it is, we’re in Splott, a working class corner of Cardiff where 18-year-old Romeo finds himself a single father – the kid’s mother doesn’t want anything do with her kid and Romeo’s alcoholic mother doesn’t want any part of it either. Julie is an astrophysics student from down the road who has dreams of Cambridge, or at least her parents do, so when a meet-cute happens in a library, everyone’s world is up for changing.
The relationship that develops between the pair is beautifully drawn. Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy connect wonderfully, showing the growing love between them both and also for Romeo’s daughter Neve. And in the face of the many challenges that rise up, in the face of parental disapproval and/or disappointment, there’s a powering sense of hope beyond all hope that somehow things will be OK.
Rachel O’Riordan’s production keeps things simple, Hayley Grindle’s design perhaps a little too non-specific to help really root the drama. The sense of the generic bleeding through sometimes leaves Owen’s script a little shapeless too, this doesn’t punch you in the soul like Iphigenia in Splott does (but equally, nor is it really trying to…). The result is a play that is effective, sometimes highly so, but not always so affecting.