Niamh Smith attended Michael Oakley’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on 26 March 2019 at The Globe Theatre
Student | Niamh Smith
Near the end the Spring term, I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of Romeo and Juliet, one of the Bard’s most famous tragedies, with fellow members of Shakespeare Society.
Most of us had starred in the Society’s production of the play a few weeks earlier, so the prospect of watching other actors in what had become ‘our’ roles felt slightly weird. Slightly weird, unfortunately, is the thought that comes to mind when I think back to this production, although not because of familiarity with the play. Having seen Othello performed to a soundtrack of Britney Spears and Lana Del Rey (really) and, in another performance of R&J, women giving birth to coffins on stage (I am not making this up), I have had experience of the rather bizarre modern ‘twists’ that The Globe adds to its productions. Romeo and Juliet continued in this tradition. Specifically aimed at students, the play was condensed down to 90 minutes – after performing an almost full-length version, this felt somewhat alien, although not unwelcome (we were stood up for the whole thing, after all). The iconic moments – the balcony scene, Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths, the tragic denouement – were all present and correct. However, I could not help feeling that director Michael Oakley had misinterpreted the tone of the play and, as such, the production never felt like the tragedy it should have been.
A large emphasis was put on comic set pieces, mostly involving the Nurse (Debbie Chazen). Whilst these were very funny and suited the first half of the play, injecting comedy into the later scenes was, I feel, a mistake. An example was when Paris (Christopher Chung) came onto the stage after Juliet’s supposed death with a floral wreath in the shape of her name. The fact that the audience laughed during this scene undercut the tragedy of Paris’ unrequited love and his ultimately doomed character arc. A further problem occurred at the play’s end – after the tragic deaths of the two lovers, what should be a moment of poignancy and reflection for the audience was instead turned into an upbeat, hip-hop dance routine. As dazzling and crowd-pleasing as this was, I couldn’t help being reminded of the scene in Hot Fuzz, where a production of the play ends with a rendition of The Cardigans’ ‘Lovefool’. It almost resembled farce.
Moreover, the cast were mostly one-dimensional in their portrayals of their characters. Nathan Welsh never really managed to capture Romeo’s impulsiveness and lovelorn nature, whilst Ned Derrington’s Mercutio acted purely as comic relief, throwing away some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful soliloquies. Charlotte Beaumont was better at Juliet, capturing her youthful vitality and innocence, but like most of the cast, her performance felt very exaggerated and over-played.
Indeed, Shalisa James-Davis was quite possibly the only actor who underplayed her character – she did a fine job at capturing Benvolio’s loyal nature. That is not to say that there were not nicely observed moments with the other cast, such as the touching scene when Lady Capulet (Hermoine Guillford) gives Juliet a necklace before her wedding.
Overall, Oakley’s production of Romeo and Juliet fell flat as an interpretation of the classic tragedy. I found it enjoyable and even laughed and clapped along in parts, but found it (to quote Shakespeare himself) ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. However, one thing cannot be disputed: it had its heart in the right place. If there were some students in the audience who were perhaps inspired to get involved with Shakespeare, or theatre in general, as a result of seeing the production, then Oakley and company did something right.