Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, presented by Headlong at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 10.
THIS is a dazzling production. The set is ingenious and the action is slick, often with two scenes gently intertwined on the stage at once.
While on an upper floor, Capulet and Lady Capulet mourn the loss of Tybalt in one breath and plan Juliet’s marriage to Paris in the next, below on stage, in a giant bed, Juliet and her Romeo celebrate their one night of marriage.
This is a modern dress production that works with great precision. A digital clock on a giant screen reminds us that the whole story is over just five days.
There is also a deft rewind of some crucial moments. You see what a close run thing life and death is. Just one flicker of fate and Mercutio and Tybalt would not have died, Romeo would not have been banished. It is the essence of tragedy that it turns on a hair.
The humanity of the characters is brought out here. Keith Bartlett is a wonderfully controlled and exasperated Capulet, the dutiful father who cannot see that he is a bully. He doesn’t have to shout to be terrifying. Caroline Faber’s feeling Lady Capulet is a mirror to that.
Danny Kirrane is a cheerful, relaxed Benvolio, Romeo’s great mate, and Brigid Zengeni is a Nurse whose warmth and humour pervades the play. Clever devices are used to make sure the original text fits the modern setting. Simon Coates’s authoritative Friar Laurence gives his lecture on herbs with the help of PowerPoint.
When Romeo cries as The Nurse enters: “A sail, a sail!” she is carrying shopping bags with “sale” on them. To torment her, Mercutio (a wily, Pete Docherty-esque figure portrayed elegantly by Tom Mothersdale) empties her new clothes on to the floor. Daniel Hooke is a treat as her fellow servant, Peter.
Daniel Boyd and Catrin Stewart give visceral and tender performances as Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s body language as a young girl at the edge of grown-up life is well observed and endearing. However, at times, they each seem to blur the edge between anguish and anger so that they are shouting. Grief cries out but it does not shout.
Director Robert Icke has created a fast-paced, ensemble piece that beguiles throughout, a respectful and loving interpretation of a great play.