Terry Taplin, Pal Aron, Tristan Sturrock, Sin Phillips, Dudley Sutton, Abigail thaw, Golda Rosheuvel, Michael Medwin, Michael Byrne, Lydia Poole, Tim Barlow
Tom Morris begins his artistic directorship of the Bristol Old Vic with a new adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, an idea which has been 12 years in the making with collaborator Sean O’Connor.
Shakespeare’s story of ill-fated passion has been the subject of many adaptations over the years where the focus is usually on the innocence and energy of youth and first love.
It was whilst watching rehearsals for one such adaptation that Morris and O’Connor first considered making their own adaptation but advancing the ages of the lovers so that they met and fell in love near the end of their lives rather than at the beginning.
Juliet and Her Romeo, retains most of Shakespeare’s original text, with a little artistic licence exercised over some of the dialogue. The story is transposed from 16th Century Verona to the ‘NHS’ Montague and ‘Private Health Care’ Capulet wings of the Verona Care Home. Mrs Capulet becomes Juliet’s daughter and therefore Ms. Capulet, while other characters, Friar Lawrence, the Nurse, Rosaline, Mercutio et al make up the employees, volunteers and co-inhabitants of the care home.
This setting allows the production to indirectly examine the issues surrounding the UK as an ageing nation. Where will the money come from and who will provide us with care when we get older? Should the responsibility lie with the government or our children?
While these themes do form part of the production, it is only explicitly touched upon in the added prologue, and it is left to the programme notes to provide a little more clarity in this regard.
As the elderly yet still star-crossed lovers, Michael Byrne and Sin Phillips both give beautiful and endearing performances. They know just how to pull on the audience’s collective heart-strings without over-doing things; that said there is a lack of real passion between them, a problem in a play such as this.
Terry Taplin and Dudley Sutton are more impressive as, respectively, Benvolio and Mercutio, causing trouble throughout and battling brilliantly with Tybalt, well played by Tim Barlow, that is until their final showdown when a smack around the chops leads to a heart attack and Romeo smothering Tybalt in retaliation.
The younger cast members, including Golda Rosheuvel as the Nurse and Tristan Sturrock as Friar Lawrence, are also notably good.
This production is an interesting but only partially successful experiment, in terms of giving an original spin to one of Shakespeare best known and most performed plays. There are problems with plausibility that can’t be easily ignored.
The use of space at the Old Vic is an improvement: the stage has been extended into the auditorium and the seating rearranged accordingly, improving the sightlines in the process. Morris’s tenure as artistic director looks promising but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with this production; though an interesting take on a timeless classic it’s never quite as bold as it could be.