Words by Natalya Sareen-Kadach
Contemporary, urban energy meets the melancholic tragedy that is Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the RSC’s latest interpretation at Cardiff’s New Theatre.
With a purposeful lack of preliminary research I took my seat with a completely open mind, a total tabula rasa. In honesty, my subconscious had expected a lavish set and extravagant scene changes, appropriately garish Edwardian costume and an undoubtedly white, middle-aged cast that had the weight of 20 years or so’s acting discernibly on their shoulders. How mistaken I was. This performance by the RSC was a truly commendable, politically conscious, refreshing, modern look at race, age and even gender roles.
I thoroughly enjoyed the boldness of the cast selection. For instance, the casting of Mercutio as a female, playing the naive boisterousness of this character with absolute conviction; whilst Romeo himself offered a balance of joviality and juvenile charm, and a deeper expression of confusion and pain at his tragic realisation of his own doomed love. Juliet was the reflection of a true fair maiden in her interpretation of the lovesick and morally-conflicted character, whose love for Romeo blinds all rationality.
Whilst the majority of the youthful cast was a tremendous accolade to the talent nurtured within the company, you were certainly expected to remain imaginative and open in other areas. The utilisation of a single rotating cube on stage was the extent of the productions props. An absence of decorative flair and flamboyance provided a carefully calculated sole focus on the dramatization itself, much alike the the transgression from the Catholic to Protestant church. The purity of the set aesthetic occupied a holiness much appropriate to the themes present in Romeo and Juliet and for that, the production may be praised. Yet, for an amateur theatre-goer such as myself, the limited visuals presented proved challenging, requiring greater concentration and imagination. Maybe I have yet to work on my need for visuals to be handed to me on a silver plate, as in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 cinema-adapted visually-generous direction of the play, and rather, utilize the lack thereof in employing the creative cortex of my brain. Possibly, this revised contemporary production asks us to do so; to join the cast in our own individual creative agency, imaginatively interpreting the surroundings of the love-struck couple.
Moreover, the music accompaniment, particularly in the scene of the masquerade ball at the Capulet’s house, offered a shocking mix of heavy rock and symphonic, techno club sounds. I sense this took many of the audience by surprise and offered another intriguing layer of contemporary interpretation with which to wrap one’s, needfully open, mind around. In all, the RSC’s latest production of the timeless Shakespearean classic, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, deserved each second of applause it received from Cardiff’s audience.
And, note to self, forgo the sinful crackle of toffee wrappers in future, for prepare to expect a series of dirty, unforgiving looks.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet plays at the New Theatre from Tuesday 5 until Saturday 9 March 2019. Tickets are available from the Box Office on (029) 2087 8889 and newtheatrecardiff.co.uk.