This production of Romeo and Juliet places the action of Shakespeare’s play during the 1984-5 Kent miners’ strike – an interesting directorial choice, but one which undoubtedly pays off. This new frame adds another layer of meaning to the text and allows the audience to perhaps understand more about the characters, without making drastic changes to the text itself. The character of Tybalt in particular is developed further in this production, as his family loyalty and consequent quarrels with the Montagues are given a more solid background.
The set is made out of corrugated iron and wooden ladders, evoking the time period and fraught atmosphere of the play without distracting from the action. Shakespeare’s script is cut and spliced together with some modern dialogue, and the order of some lines is altered slightly in a refreshing take on such a familiar text. The acting throughout is phenomenal, as the cast moves easily between comedy and tragedy, and they all handle Shakespeare’s language with aplomb.
The cast of characters is cut down significantly, making for a tighter and faster-paced production – Lord Capulet, for example, has been cut, and his important lines given to his wife. This works well in the context of the production, and allows room for Juliet and her mother’s relationship to be explored in more detail, as well as the question of how the Nurse fits in as a surrogate mother to Juliet. Tybalt and Juliet are also portrayed as close, with him taking some of the Nurse’s lines and acting as more of a companion to her than we often see, in a production which tries its hardest to understand every one of Shakespeare’s characters.
Background music is used throughout the production, both to heighten the emotional intensity of scenes, and to add an ’80s flavour, in keeping with the frame. Certain scenes are added throughout the production, but very little dialogue has been written – most of these scenes are performed silently, with only background music, so they offer more of the story without significantly altering the text. The finale, in particular, has been rewritten slightly – although it might offend some purists, it makes the ending of the play even more poignant, and does not feel contrived.