SHAKESPEARE AT THE TOBACCO FACTORY AND TOBACCO FACTORY THEATRES
Polina Kalinina’s Romeo and Juliet is in a word frenetic. It skips with juvenile disregard through the scenes to which other productions give gravitas, emphasising the momentary, brilliant passions of its characters and at every turn reminding us that this is a play about the young.
Daisy Whalley as Juliet makes an immediate impression. She is arrestingly youthful, her long, brushed hair swinging like a sheet as she dances around the stage. Whalley’s sensitivity to the words she speaks grants her quick-wittedness an improvisational quality.
As the play is performed in the round, the balcony scene is staged more openly. At the centre of the stage is Juliet. Romeo flits around her, lit up at intervals. Pappa Essiedu demonstrates brilliantly in this scene the beaming fervour of an immature boy in love, bringing comedy to the line ‘O blessed, blessed night!’ by holding his arms wide in triumph.
What is impressive about the youthful ebullience and subtle innocence with which Essiedu and Whalley respectively tackle their parts is the realism they bring to the love story. There is a goriness to the deaths, and a lack of respect for the romanticised alabaster image we have inherited of the lovers on their tomb. Just as the characters throw their limbs around in the rave-like party scene, these actors have clearly been directed to abandon themselves to the characters they play.
This realism extends to the scenes in which the young tribe members spar. Rather than creating distinctions between the Capulets and the Montagues using costume variations, the production creates an equivalency between the characters by dressing them similarly, making their petty quarrels all the more bathetic.
This production’s youthfulness also infects the older generation. Of particular note is the Nurse, played by Sally Oliver. Usually a galumphing, sore-ankled old maid, Oliver’s raunchy take on the part is refreshing and adds an interesting dynamic of sexual tension between the Nurse and Capulet.
At times, the energy of the production is a little tiring, and the quiet, still gravity that Paul Currier brings to the part of Friar Laurence provides a respite from the frantic and pacy action.
Nevertheless, this is a dynamic and entertaining production of Romeo and Juliet which runs at the play headlong and sweeps its audience with it.