Romeo and body

Bally Gill as Romeo and the limp body of Karen Fishwick’ Juliet. Pictures: Topher McGrillis

Romeo and Juliet

Royal Shakespeare Company



It’s with the entry of Romeo that this production by Erica Whyman crashes into life. The idea of having the subordinate cast members all contribute to the Prologue might have been a good one, had the speaking, and the pacing, had more character: in fact, it produced a limp launch.

The earlier scenes, including Josh Finan’s well meaning Benvolio, scarcely set events on fire. The effect of all this is well meaning, but that only.

But Bally Gill proves himself a stupendous Romeo from the first moments he treads the stage. He has a wealth, a treasure house of moves and gestures and facial intensity. He has passion galore, and flair, and devises a character and personality that is electrifying from the outset.

We are instantly on his side. He exudes wildness and unpredictability, naïve youthful determination and a wonderful urge for risk taking. He explodes with adrenalin. He basks in sheer joie de vivre, and particularly, a purity of intention.

The love that assails him is as noble as the two houses whence he and Juliet spring: ‘Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs, Being purged, sparkling in lovers’ eyes, Being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears….’. To hear Gill’s Romeo speaking such lines so gorgeously and eloquently felt a marvel indeed.

Almost the same can be said for Karen Fishwick’s exquisitely young Juliet. A very Scottish lass, whose words you occasionally miss, she is never so good as during the final scenes, where she hesitates before swallowing Friar Laurence’s potion, and goes on to risk seeming death.

juliet and nurse

 Ishia Bennison’s Nurse with Karen Fishwick's Juliet

But she is much else: for instance, this Juliet has a sense of humour, which she uses to nice and amusing effect. Her scenes with Ishia Bennison’s enjoyably earthy, almost irreverent, loud modern dressed Nurse are alive with ideas, and clever pacing (the Nurse’s scenes with Juliet and Romeo are all entertainingly vivid).

When Juliet appears above, on Tom Piper’s surprisingly variable cube of a set, she instantly wins us over. In the waking scene, where the two lovers emerge from bed, her attire is sensual enough to seem almost like nudity. This is more than can be said for the rest of the costumes, where jackets and shirts seem utterly indifferent and uninteresting: there is no suggestion of nobility, merely a flat and boring ordinariness; even an updated West Side Story would surely show more originality in costume.

There are three exceptions. Beth Cordingly’s Escalus, the Prince, wears a suitably upmarket overcoat, and commands with authority; Mariam Haque’s Lady Capulet, certainly one of the best defined and best spoken figures in this staging, is awarded a range of stylish attires. But the most eye catching of all is Charlotte Josephine’s dazzling Mercutio.


Andrew French as Friar Laurence

Why she is dubbed a girl when she conducts herself so much like a chap is puzzling, though does little harm. But she too is electrifying, and more. Her range of helter skelter moves and pirouettes, wild, frenetic and all but crazed, bring the stage astonishingly to life. She makes Mercutio sexy, and licentious, which is right. Her quickfire Queen Mab speech, and all the rest of it, is scintillating. She is a whirlpool of activity; her rather scrumptious pink attire is almost of Shakespeare’s period, and it is her explosive daring and dispensing with self restraint that costs her her life, wrestling with Raphael Sowole’s burly and always impressive Tybalt (an RSC debut) on the platform above.

If Haque and Bennison both shine in their respective roles as Lady Capulet and the Nurse, the first bringing a fine authority, the latter much gently cockney comedy, one of the highlights is Michael Hodgson’s Capulet. He shifts adroitly between tenderness and affection and explosive anger; he moves rather subtly; he is a strong and forceful paterfamilias who does not expect to be crossed; though his nobility in dissuading Tybalt from assailing Romeo at the pop music ball (Sophie Cotton’s notably restrained musical score an asset, and her use of poignant strings at three key moments especially appealing). It’s a vital performance from the patently talented Hodgson, bedecked with more ideas than many a Capulet. Montague has next to nothing to do, and Paul Dodds gives him the pallid character he deserves: dull, dully dressed, frankly tedious.

It would be nice to pour praise on Josh Finan’s Benvolio, a difficult part to characterise, usually eschewing prominence, but in the early scenes he seems limp, wet, gormless. Until his central speech, to Escalus (‘O noble prince! I can discover all….Tybalt, here slain, whom Romeo’s hand did slay…’). There he comes fantastically alive, vigorous and assured. In short, he shows us what he can do, given a platform. Suddenly he offers us one of the best uttered speeches in the play. Unusually, Tom Padley makes Balthasar’s concerned late appearances rather effective too. He carves out nobility from next to nothing.

One absolute highlight of Whyman’s production is that she is blessed with a superb Friar Laurence. If one were seeking a lesson in verse speaking, of sensitivity to the words as well as a beautiful generosity of spirit, Andrew French’s Friar would sweep the board. Why he cannot get to Juliet’s tomb in time to anticipate the doomed Romeo (and spare the rather witty if hapless Paris of Afolabi Alli) is rather a mystery, given that everyone else, including a movingly distraught Capulet, turns up immediately. But one must call that dramatic licence. What we had here was a dramatic feast, a well considered performance from a sensitive cast. All in all, a marked success. To 21-09-18 then 2-11-18 to 19-01-19 at The Barbican.

Roderic Dunnett


Live broadcast to cinemas – 18-07-18 

Index page RSC Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre