O brawling love! O loving hate! Rebecca Freknall’s latest theatrical conquest sees Romeo and Juliet bursting through an earthen wall with visceral ensemble dance, uncompromisingly emotional performances, and a true command over the holy potential of light.

Credit: Marc Brenner

Shakespeare’s introduction of ‘two hours’ traffic’ always seemed an unattainable goal, yet Frecknall’s production somehow manages to capture the essence and tragedy of the star-crossed lovers’ tale in a single sitting without losing any of the detail, depth, or feeling.

A masterfully agile cast move between dynamic sequences of Hofesch-Schechter style choreography and rich, physical scenes that take place atop a bare space, floodlit from above. Toheeb Jimoh is so effortlessly charming as Romeo that it’s almost understandable how swiftly the Nurse (a truly staunch Jo McInnes) hops aboard his naively passion-driven plot to marry Juliet (after knowing her less than a day).

The inner longing of Isis Hainsworth’s Juliet is richly evoked with galloping pace that treads a dextrous line between the innocence of youth and the determinism of a burgeoning woman set to realise the force of her desire. Playing the part with a firm touch of quirk and bite, she proves the rawness of her potential in the final scene, embracing the darkness and physical force of the knife into her belly with a realism that does everything the end of the play requires. To clarify: the candlelit end is simply stunning.

Another highlight is the crossing over of scenes and action, with ‘inactive’ cast members exiting scenes by simply turning away, frequently staying onstage to look on. Romeo shoots Tybalt across Juliet, who’s onstage but in a different ‘place’; the two lovers lie ‘next to’ each other after Romeo’s exile, bound by their mutual anguish. The party and Juliet’s post-poison fever dream also unfurl with the violent passion of movement, and the stage images are consistently stunning. It’s all so tasteful and balanced — Frecknall yet again proves her command of style, with Lee Curran’s atmospheric lighting shifts between cools and warms playing over Debbie Duru’s modernised court dress, channelling the detail and drama of McQueen.

Credit: Marc Brenner

Jack Riddiford needs a mention as the wild, jagged and febrile Mercutio. He commands the space, channelling love into aggression, lusty gestures to the dark hilarity of the base. The love for Romeo is palpable, the embittered aggression of an emotionally volatile man with unmatched feelings — he more than fills the boots of this larger-than-life part and perfectly scores the symbolic backdrop of Romeo’s journey.

Undeniably a visual and sensory feast, the interpretation simply leans into the story, with the movement elevating the backdrop of heat and violence against which the doomed romance falls apart. Romeo seems so clear, youthful, ambitious and full of thwarted hope. Juliet is a much more complicated representation, being so young, more the victim of the families’ bigotry and emotional repression… For a play that so bountifully captures the respective ebbs and flows of masculinity and femininity, it feels that in this production, it is the latter that has more to say.

Above all, this is a knowing, mature, and actorly take on a classic. Uniting poetry, play, pictures, and dance, the cross-medium delights raise the tragedy to epic proportions. I was gripped, stunned, and moved by its beauty, the power and cleverness of the text singing anew with such a confident presentation. Upon leaving, my heart felt strangely light. I had really seen Romeo and Juliet. I also now wonder: is dance simply the best accompaniment to tragedy?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Romeo and Juliet is on until the 29th of July – info here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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