Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A skilful contemporary interpretation

Romeo and Juliet

Wales Theatre Company , Grand Theatre Swansea , September 27, 2008
Romeo and Juliet by Wales Theatre Company Wales Theatre Company Artistic Director, Michael Bogdanov knows his Shakespeare. With actor Michael Pennington in 1986 he founded The English Shakespeare Company, best known for its War of The Roses cycle which received world-wide acclaim. Shortly after he established his new company back in Wales he presented a trilogy of successful plays by the wise old bard: Cymbeline, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, bringing together a great team of Welsh actors who now appear regularly in the company’s productions. This was followed by the hugely innovative back-to-back production of Hamlet both in English and Welsh with a superb translation by Gareth Miles.

With a number of these excellent players and his regular creative and production teams he brings us a play very much for today with his skilful contemporary interpretation of one of the world’s greatest tragic love stories. Once again Bogdanov shows his grasp of theatrical flare with his casting of two exciting young actors in the leading roles. Jack Ryder is very much a kid on the block, deeply affected by his feelings for Juliet but even with Shakespeare’s words he is tongue tied in expressing himself. He may have killed Tybalt but he somehow retains a bewildered innocence. Sara Lloyd-Gregory is a delight as Juliet, conveying both youthful charm and a naïve passion as she gives us, at times a very clear and poetic delivery of these beautiful and simple lines. This production opens with a startling street fight, expertly choreographed by Malcolm Ranson, between the young posturing Capulets and the gauche Montagues reflecting the many stabbing horrors we hear reported so often in our media. Again making it clear that we are very much in the twenty first century a whole host of knives, chains etc, are handed over to the police after they break up the fight.

The Tony Blair suited Prince of Verona, a nice touch of authority from Danny Grehan, rebukes and expresses his frustration with the needless long established feud between these two families so “alike in dignity” and in many other ways. We are led to believe that we live in a civilised world, much more civilised than 400 hundred years ago. When Shakespeare was writing I don’t suppose that he ever contemplated on the fact that so little would change in human behaviour over the centuries ahead. There seems to be more needless killing it the last two than ever before. Families, countries, races, religions must surely all want to live in peace and have happy lives just on their door steps. Writers and poets and commentators will go on highlighting these human shortcomings and they will continue no doubt for another four hundred years and beyond, we can only hope that things will get better.

Not all in this production is truly uplifting but with more of the great bonhomie and warmth expressed so deliciously by Russell Gomer’s compelling Mercutio and Christine Pritchard’s consummately warm-hearted nurse life could get better for all of us. Especially with more of the great care and concern for the young people entrusted to him shown in Simon Armstrong’s excellent playing of Friar Laurence. We might not approve the aggressive Tybalt but we can certainly admire Richard Munday’s near perfect characterisation. A chip off his father’s block, another cleverly drawn character from John Labanowski. A strong portrait of a self-made man who brooked no contradiction. He could have been one of the bankers responsible for the financial mess the world is now in. He was partnered by the splendidly haughty and sensual Kathryn Dimery; both given good support by Richard Tunley. Parents on the poor boy’s side were a more sensitive Ieuan Rhys and Bethan Thomas with a robust (maybe just a little too much) Gareth Richards, and a slick Bill Bellamy in good support. Elegant but lonely, the guy that also lost his girl Gareth John Bale, still a memorable Welsh speaking Hamlet, completed this giving and excellent cast.

The play slipped into banality at the first discovery of Juliet’s body and there was literally a flashy ending with the paparazzi in full pursuit of the main players. I can appreciate the director’s reasoning here but for me it undermined the Shakespearean aesthetic but took nothing away from the thrilling moments within the play.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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