In Fair Southampton where we lay our scene…..

23 Feb

“Do you bite your thumb at us Sir”. This iconic little morsel of literature signified the opening of Robert Icke’s Headlong production of ‘Romeo & Juliet’. One line into the show and I’m already feeling sceptical. I recognise the line but I’m also cognizant of the rather peculiar costume arrangements. The actor under scrutiny is sporting a Marseille football tracksuit top, cerca 2007. This plus Shakespeare equals a cringe feeling for me. I’m not sure why exactly but it just doesn’t feel right, it’s like feeding steak to ducks. However, due to potential expulsion from the auditorium and the high probability that nobody else gave a hoot about this I was forced to keep my superior football garment knowledge on lockdown.
Fast forward two hours and I’m rather glad I did. Icke et al have produced a quirky, perceptive and refreshingly contemporary insight on Shakespeare’s hallowed play. With theatrical techniques of using a manual rewind, a frankly cheesy soundtrack and use of a huge projected digital clock the play frequently asks, ‘what if’? What if Juliet had simply not seen Romeo at the Capulet’s party? Icke explores all of the frustratingly heaven scripted pieces of rotten luck for the ‘star crossed lovers’. The projected digital clock displays and emphasizes the astonishing timeframe in which the volcanic love tragedy occurs.
It’s true as a Granpa’s grumbles noted that there are a few missing monologues, yet Headlong have added a monumental amount which adds for a mesmeric rendition. As the play developed so did my opinion on the 21st century vogue used by Headlong’s costume fitters. The costumes along with some impeccable acting gives the production a tangible feel for the audience. Danny Kiranne brings to life Benvolio in such a genuine manner that it’s easy to see Benvolio as simply your chubby cheeky omnipresent out on the lash buddy. This just makes the play; real and totally believable. Tom Mothersdale’s Mercutio despite hideously flamboyant velvet trousers and stingingly crude mannerisms, is sensational and his stage death leaves a chasm in terms of comedy and entertainment. Brigid Zengeni’s Nurse is also one of the most potent, powerful and perhaps the strongest character of the whole play that could easily slide into our society as a doting, pampering and pampered mum.
The two lead roles seem to be more nuanced however. The casting director has done a fabulous job in selecting actors who seem to embody immature and fantastical adolescence. Daniel Boyd and Catrin Stewart give the impression of it all being an elaborately constructed game, of which the first rule is, you believe it 100 per cent. At the ripe old age of 18 I almost want to tell the pair to grow up. Romeo and Juliet at around the ages of 13 and 15 are exploring an untainted and innocent first love. Yet I extracted from Icke’s work not the romance but the tragedy of the family feud. Romeo and Juliet should be able to fall into an idealistic love as teenagers across the world do every day yet they were not able to. It makes me think, what if there were no family feud perhaps Romeo might have just settled for a piece of pizza with Juliet on Thursday.
I’m not totally convinced by all of Icke’s techniques yet I can promise you this; if you come to the play with a hungry mind, Icke and co will offer you plenty of food for thought. A massive thanks is extended from me to Nottingham playhouse and the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton for the regal treatment which I and other Mouthy Poets received.


One Response to “In Fair Southampton where we lay our scene…..”

  1. Anne Holloway February 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Looking forward to seeing this even more now – I’ve never really been able to get my head round Romeo’s super fast switch from Rosaline to Juliet and the ensuing deep and meaningful love between them, but somehow you’ve just flipped a switch in my head which makes me remember that two teenagers would run headlong down an impossible path, because it is forbidden.

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