Review: Romeo & Juliet @ Crucible Theatre

The world’s most famous love story is nothing if not cinematic in scope and potential. It’s interesting, then, that the first Sheffield production of Romeo and Juliet in over two decades is a small, intimate affair, seeking to dispense with the sensationalist trappings that have become closely tied to Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy.

The sets and costumes are endearingly retro, taking inspiration in equal measure from seventies chic and small-town America. It’s an uncommon aesthetic choice; all oversized shirts and corrugated steel cladding. The fateful party where the eponymous lovers clap eyes on each other is downright psychedelic; packed with disco balls and vintage streamers.

The soul of the play is, quite rightly, the star couple. Freddie Fox excels at conveying the wild-eyed, rash overconfidence that Romeo cries out for, while Morfydd Clark provides a Juliet wise beyond her years; born to the wrong era as well as the wrong family. Their scenes together stir up memories of everyone’s first romance. Their staccato farewells during the balcony scene conjure up memories of overlong “no you hang up” phone calls from youth.

Middlesbrough native Michael Hodgson is well-used as an unpredictable Capulet, perched on the edge of psychosis. The patriarch’s power over his daughter and family is viscerally believable, and his internal conflict equally so. Andrew Leung gifts us a well-meaning but ultimately ignorant Paris; a sprightly, uptight waterfly of a man.

The swordfights dotting the play are brief, unremarkable affairs. In fact, you often find yourself trying to figure out which stroke was intended to be the killing stroke. This could well be a deliberate attempt to move away from the cinematic, elaborately choreographed fight scenes immortalised in adaptations such as Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 extravaganza. It’s a good fit to this production’s down-to-earth values.

With a story this well-trodden – subject to adaptations left, right and center, it’s hard to cast aside all assumptions and appreciate a stage production of Romeo and Juliet for what it is. We’ve all been trained to see this story as something spectacular and fantastical, so it’s initially difficult to accept that it doesn’t have to be.

In many ways, this is a very safe production. But then, a play doesn’t need to be reinvented with every production in order to be worthwhile. That’s especially true here, given the remarkable timelessness of Romeo and Juliet.

Through dispensing with spectacle, we strip away the manifold disguises of the play until we’re left with the simple, personal tragedy of Juliet and her Romeo. In portraying this tragedy in all its tenderness, the production truly soars.

Find tickets and more info here.

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