Monthly Archives: March 2010

Romeo and Juliet, at the Courtyard Theatre

hug a hoodie

If Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet was the production for the MTV generation of the nineties, then Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet is the production for the Skins generation now. It is young, fresh, and incredibly sexy. We all know that the play is one of the greatest love stories ever told, but it is often forgotten that it is also full of lust and Goold does not shy away from exploring just that with the teenage couple.

The play begins with the famous lines, “two households both alike in dignity” retold in several different languages, which emphasises the story’s relevance across cultures and time. The set is full of heavy symbols, from Egyptian gods to Catholic emblems, conveying how tradition and religion can sometimes divide rather than unite. And in a celebrity obsessed society where self-harming and suicides amongst the young and famous are seen as anything from tragic to glamorous, it is Romeo and Juliet who are the early instigators.

Here we have peeping-Tom meets teenage angst in Romeo, he has a camera and takes pictures of the audience and walks around with his headphones on. As for Juliet it is Lily Allen circa 2006 meets an emo, she chews gum and wears Converses. The costumes work perfectly, it is only Romeo and Juliet who are wearing modern day clothing, which highlights how they are similar and unlike their family members. Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale play the young couple perfectly, and Jonjo O’Neill’s Mercutio is the crowd pleaser. A hit.

Runs till 27 August.

To see or not to see: * * * * *


London Assurance, at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre

remember to pack my bonnet, or else...

It’s not often that you go to the theatre and laugh so loudly. The National’s Theatre’s Olivier theatre, however, was full of laughter because of Nicholas Hytner’s London Assurance. The play tells the story of Sir Harcourt Courtly, who lives in Belgravia, and is soon going to marry a girl half his age. We watch as the city dandy is transported to the Gloucestershire countryside, what follows are a series of mistaken identities, flamboyant dancing, and an electronic rat.

Purists may dislike that Dion Boucicault’s play has been edited, but like other Irish writers, such as Oscar Wilde, who portray the English upper-classes as image conscious and dim, the core is not lost. Hytner’s version and the cast’s own improvisations entertain the audience, in particular Simon Russell Beale as Sir Harcourt and Fiona Shaw as Lady Gay Spanker who work excellently off of each other and the audience’s response.

Some of the imminent questions are though, why is the National Theatre putting on a production of the play? And who is it putting it on for? It may delight the critics and the white middle-class viewers who have read or seen versions before, but because there is little making the production relevant, for example its homosexual subtext and class divisions could be further explored, it fails to take the opportunity to speak to a wider audience. Instead it remains a stylish costume bash, and you certainly would leave laughing.

Runs till 2 June.

To see or not to see: * * * *

King Lear, at the Courtyard Theatre

why does it always rain on me?

Gestapo outfits, military marching, and long rifles. No it’s not a Second World War drama, but the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of King Lear. The play remains a popular choice for the company, as this is their fourth version in ten years, this time with Greg Hicks playing the title role and David Farr directing.

It tells the story of the ageing Lear who decides to step down from power and divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters. He puts them through a test asking each of them how much they love him, whilst the two eldest flatter his ego, Cordelia simply says she loves him “according to my bond, nor more nor less.”  Lear is enraged and disowns her, in an almost reverse of the Prodigal son parable he soon learns that his rash decision has set in motion a string of tragedies.

The opening is uncertain and arduous; it is set in a warehouse, but the characters shift from military garb to medieval gowns. As the chaos ensues, however, so too does our captivation. The war-like imagery works well reflecting Lear’s inner turmoil. “See better Lear”, he is told by Kent, but the subtle sound of taps dripping, the flickering lights, and fog convey how it is difficult for Lear to see both physically and metaphorically. Jon Bausor’s design is taken one step further to create one of the strongest moments of the play, as Lear delivers the climax to the first half under a spotlight, rain, and thunder, Hicks gives a powerful performance of Lear’s madness.

In Hicks we have a Lear who is commanding over the language and the stage, and empathetic in his anger and his misery. Kathryn Hunter, who once played Lear, creates a great doll-like, doe-eyed, and direct Fool. And Samantha Young’s Cordelia is played with the correct devotion, but her delivery is rehearsed rather than emotional. The production almost takes over the performances, it’s King Lear meets Band of Brothers.

Runs till 26 August.

To see or not to see: * * *