Review: Romeo and Juliet

Brilliant acting on a tough stage.

Putting on a historically renowned play in an even more historic and prestigious location in Trinity College Chapel is no mean feat and expectations coming into this play were certainly high. It must be said that they very effectively tackled the difficult depiction of themes such as suicide and gang violence; readers should also note that alcohol use and forced marriage were broached during this play. (Spoiler alert).

Despite being an irrefutably overperformed play, or at least playwright, producer and lead actress Shaira Berg and director Sophie Raynor were able to keep it exciting not only with the new venue that has never seen Shakespeare in its 457 year history, but also with the inclusion of live music and an effective abridgement of the play that did not impact the plotline whatsoever.

The inclusion of live music was certainly a risk, but one that was largely successful. The use of hymns at the beginning worked well to amplify the religious setting that we were already in, seated in the pews of the church. I was particularly impressed by flautist Jasmine Habgood, who was also the musical director. However, I was slightly disappointed to see Christina Huang using her laptop (not just for music notes) at times, which was particularly noticeable in what should have been a poignant climax scene of the death of Romeo and Juliet. Nonetheless, Habgood was disciplined in inclusion of live music; easy to overdo, they got the balance just right in order to create a great atmosphere.

What certainly didn’t take away from the play, however, is the acting, which was brilliant throughout. The scene that struck me the most was Berg’s brilliant acting that we have come to expect, begging her mother Lady Capulet (Isabel Beaumont) not to marry her off, consoled by Nurse Milly Kotecha. Beaumont’s acting was without a doubt some of the best I have ever seen; I don’t think I have felt genuine anger towards an actress before, nor sympathy like I had for Juliet in the same scene.

A heart-wrenching scene on the minimalist set (rehearsal).

In an uncomplicated scene based around a sofa, Raynor made effective use of a minimalist set consisting of a table and a bench. I liked the choice to restrict the set; more furniture would have served as clutter and only taken away from the grandiose setting in which they were. The use of costumes were also simple but effective, with shirts and trousers to represent male characters; Michelle Crees’ and Matilda Braje’s depictions of Tybalt and Mercutio respectively were particularly impressive.

Braje in particular played her role perfectly, evoking laughs in the audience to allow the play to flow and energy to stay high in what otherwise is quite a depressing story – her realisation that the Shakespearean equivalent of ‘gang life’ was all for nothing came far too late, a theme we still see today. Her ability to evoke symathy and sadness at the dire events that transpired from the audience was amplified by her effectiveness in playing a youth filled with innocent bravado.

However, this would not have been nearly as effective if Crees’ equally blind loyalty had not served as a provocation. It was a stroke of genius from Connor Nainthy to give Crees a solid blue cotton shirt compared to Braje’s flashy beige silk, indicating Crees’ relative seniority, strength and seriousness. This enabled the audience to believe Tybalt’s threats were serious and that this character was intimidating.

A particularly impressive supporting act was Ryan Keys (right)

Supporting actors were generally good, although at times a couple of actors seemed lost in group scenes, unable to convincingly portray emotions – it seemed confidence was an issue at times, and it was certainly clear they were acting. However, having only rehearsed on the set twice, it is difficult to criticise them for this.

Another consequence, though, of on set underrehearsal, was that at times it was difficult to hear, but particularly to see actors. There were several scenes where actors were talking to each other in the thrust section, but facing each other we were left looking at their backs and occasionally struggling to pick up what they were saying.

One cannot finish a review of Romeo and Juliet without talking about Romeo and Juliet. Johnny Kennedy looked extremely promising in his first Camdram play, playing the idiot romantic almost to perfection; I was particularly impressed by his ability to balance coming off as a womaniser just enough to be accused of such by Friar Lawrence (Georgina Hayward) – who played a brilliantly calm narrator – but also a true romantic that enabled us to feel for him when he was forced away from Juliet. Shaira Berg’s acting was also exquisite, playing the head-over-heels young girl in love, unloved by her mother. To re-emphasise, both leads acted absolutely brilliantly.

Overall, this was a good play that managed to largely avoid the boredom or repetitive nature of a Shakespearean moments, with real highs at times, such as the final scene and the forced marriage scene. 4/5

All photo credits: Dik Ng

Note: I have assumed choreographer Nainthy to be responsible for costume, in the absence of a named costume designer. Who knows, perhaps costume wasn’t a conscious decision, but I’m forever an optimist!

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