Romeo and Juliet, Thursday 27th April, Wales Millennium Centre, reviewer: Kirby Evans
This is Shakespeare reimagined. Omidaze theatre company combine aerial cirrus with iambic pentameter to create a stunning performance of a story that has been told a thousand times.
The two-hour unseated performance begins its dynamic journey in the foyer of the theatre, where audience members whisper and scour the room with uncertainty before the cast members appear amongst them. Once everyone is finally aware of what is happening, the audience are ushered into an intimate and dimly lit studio, decorated with aerial hoops and acrobatic silks. It feels elusive and intriguing. Each scene takes place in a different area of the room, creating a real sense of movement and progression as the play unravels. As a result of the layout of the room, the audience are required to move around the space according to which scene is taking place. There is something about having the actors directing the audience that brings a sense of vulnerability to the show. It doesn’t feel like they are performing for an audience in a theatre, but more that they are guiding them through the streets of Verona. To further this, as the show progresses and audience members’ feet tire, more and more members begin to sit on the floor to watch. Grownups sitting on the floor cross legged in public isn’t considered a social norm and as a result, strengthens that feeling of vulnerability, and further removes spectators from the real world, enabling each person to be full immersed in the play. It’s pretty cool.
The cast is small. With a grand total of six actors, it means each person plays multiple parts, but the minimalist costumes ensure that character changes aren’t a hassle, and there is no ambiguity as to who you are watching. The costumes, as mentioned are certainly minimal. All actors have beige clothes on and when in character will generally have one item of clothing on that represents who they are. One could consider it low budget, or in a more positive light it could be seen as stripped back Shakespeare, removing any distractions to enable you to fully immerse yourself in the show. That being said, in contrast with this ‘stripped back’ outlook, there are two actresses spinning around in the air frequently throughout (slightly more distracting than Elizabethan wardrobe one could argue.) Granted aerial acrobatics must be outrageously difficult and tiring, let alone when they are expected to carry off monologues whilst most probably out of breath. However, given that only two women are ever in the air, and at seemingly random points, it almost feels like an afterthought. the acrobatics, although incredible, doesn’t seem to bring an awful lot to the play. It’s a great idea, and a novel one too, but maybe it needed to be a more central feature of the show.
However, there is a moment that is brought to life with the aid of an aerial hoop. The energy of one of Mercutio’s monologues is astounding, and enhanced with the acrobatics; it’s this scene where this adaptation really does work well. A Lot of credit goes to the two fantastic acrobats; Gemma Creasey and Hannah O’Leary, they put their heart and soul into their performances, and this really shines through during interactions between Benvolio and Mercutio. The other character that stands out, is the nurse, played by Kayed Mohammed Mason. When one is asked to recall a humorous character in Romeo and Juliet, for most readers of the play, Mercutio comes to mind, but the audience of this performance are guaranteed to say the Nurse. Mason’s wit and cheek shine a light on a character that could easily have fallen into the background, whilst simultaneously lifting the atmosphere of a true tragedy. And a tragedy it is. The audience are certainly not quick to leave the room once the show has ended, most likely because they stand in awe as the lights come on and they try in vain to process the last two hours and come back down to earth.
Overall, an outstanding performance, although not breath-taking, whether you like Shakespeare or not, it’s not one to miss!
Downfalls: Achey back, feels low budget, slow to get started and not enough aerobatics.
Highlights: Incredible actors (Juliet’s tears will rip through you), laugh out loud moments, interesting use of props and it is certainly novel.
by Kirby Evans