Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

romeo and juliet

Verona - 2374 - in rehearsal. Pictures: Roy Palmer

Romeo and Juliet

Hall Green Youth Theatre


FEW plays can be as well-known or well-loved as Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, nor, along with Hamlet, be as much performed.

And Shakespeare is not the easiest for young actors; it might be written in the most beautiful English language you will ever hear but these days, four centuries on, you are not going to hear it on the High Street or in even the poshest of pubs. So the youngsters did remarkably well to bring the language to life and, thankfully, to avoid the pitfall of speaking the words in lines as written making it all sound like badly written poetry.

Directors Roy Palmer and Daniel Robert Beaton have worked hard on a natural delivery and it showed with words, in the main, flowing as conversation.

The play has spawned operas, at least 27 of them, ballets, works of art and countless films, notably Franco Zefferelli’s stunning 1968 version and more recently Baz Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo + Juliet set in a war between rival mafia families in modern day upstate New York. It also gave us what many regard as the finest musical yet written, West Side Story set between street gangs in 1950’s New York.

Hall Green have taken it even further from its Elizabethan origins, setting it in a post-apocalyptic Verona in 2374, a scene set by a video wall of nuclear destruction and a landscape of a broken civilization, all to a rhythmic beat from the entire cast which also welcomed the audience – a memorable and hypnotic opening.

romeo and juliet

Star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, Megan Matthews and Emily Beaton

The date was not an affected attempt to be different though, it had very practical considerations not least the prohibitive cost of decking a large cast in Italian Renaissance costume. Set far in the future it meant the cast had the chance to design their own costumes and their own jewelry, two extra aspects of theatre in which they could be involved, and to add their own make-up. The result was an interesting mix of Mad Max and Goth with a hint of New Wave.

The play is not about any particular era it is about two lovers from warring clans, which has seen productions in settings of black and white, Palestinian and Israeli, Protestant and Catholic – any two groups where there is conflict.

Here, apart from costume, and a nifty doubled bladed dagger, Hall Green’s version could be set at any time, concentrating upon the story, with a little added ingenuity.

A dirth of boys in the youth theatre meant Megan Matthews became Romeo. It is by no means the first time our lover boy has been a lover girl, but does make the role doubly difficult and one which was manfully carried out by Megan who had suffered a painful and bruising fall a couple of days earlier in rehearsal which had left her in some discomfort.

Emily Beaton at first seemed a little unsure of herself as Juliet but came alive splendidly when first she was threatened by her father Lord Capulet (Daniel Robert Beaton) with a marriage to well-bred Paris (Devon Riley) having already been secretly wed to Romeo by Friar Lawrence (Luke Elinor) and then flowering when she faced death – twice.

Her final scene even brought a couple of gasps from the audience which was surprising, proving perhaps that Romeo and Juliet might be known of rather than actually known as a play in some quarters.

A splendid performance from Katie Driver as the Nurse

Incidentally, Lord Capulet and his Lady wife (Esther Roden) and Lord Montague (Mary Ruane) were adults playing the three older characters, the parents, in this tragic tale.

The acting honours though, go to two of the lesser, yet most important characters, fourth and sixth in the number of lines in the full play, the Nurse and Mercutio.

The nurse, who has brought up Juliet from birth is played and indeed owned by Katie Driver with a voice that could shatter anvils. She recites Shakespeare in a wonderful, matter of fact way, finding all the nuances and humour of the character Shakespeare created.

Equally impressive is Charlotte Crowe as Mercutio, a close friend of Romeo, yet being neither Montague nor Capulet, able to move freely between both houses. She is another who makes her speeches appear completely natural, dictated by their natural rythym and phrasing and not the lines as printed.

Jack Heath gives us a remarkably bolshie Tybalt, the Capulet hard man and the sort of bloke who could pick an argument with his reflection in a mirror. He sees his role in life as carrying onan endless war against the Montagues.

Gone are the elegant sword fights of tradition, here we have a much grittier battle ground and some of the fight scenes are quite vicious showing plenty of pent up anger in the long standing feud.

And when it comes to anger, then there is the Prince, a remarkably angry royal in the hands of Joseph Allen. He seems to have two moods, vile and even more vile, as he tries to stop the battling clans.

Music Director Roseann Smith has created a constant background of percussion on a collection of instruments made by Roy Palmer which at the start of each act are played by the entire cast and throughout by a group of musicians, Erin Kilker, Ruth Holland and Maryaam Kaleemullah all led by Roseann, hidden on screen behind a screen. It is an effective addition to scenes.

There is solid support from the rest of the cast and an impressive moment when a minor medical problem in the audience caused a bit of a kerfuffle and the cast carried on without the slightest hint of a stutter.

Jean Wilde has edited the script to reduce it from its full length in excess of three hours without interval to a more manageable length of just below two hours including interval, a task she has managed without losing the essence of the story.

An entertaining and creditable production of a far from easy play. To 25-02-17

Roger Clarke


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