It’s the end of term for me, and as another year passes by, another barrage of productions emerges about Shakespeare’s most iconic star-crossed lovers. Romeo and Juliet is certainly one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and having seen it more than any other play myself, it’s hard not to love the tale as old as time. And so, I watch my second student production of the play done at King’s, though this one is done as an independent student endeavour by Director and Producer Benjaman Lockwood rather than from any theatrical society.
In comparison to my previous student viewing of this play from the year prior, this production also is condensed into an hour and a half of tragedy without interval – yet goes for a more traditional approach to the text. This is evident in the venue for the play: The King’s College Chapel. With the majesty of the pillars, stained windows and checkerboard floor it comes to no surprise why Lockwood chooses this as his stage – there’s no need for setting Verona when the atmosphere and environment already exist in the space of the Chapel. The candlelit background echoes the Wanamaker, with the gentle wash and spots of the stage lights provide that emphasis on the beauty of the location. This unfortunately comes at the expense of projection which is partially lost through the vast church hall (and partially from the some cast member’s lack of diction too). While screams can be haunting in a chapel, the arguments and bellows fall flat.
Rhiannon Merrifield’s performance as the Soprano both at the beginning, middle, and end of the play rises above this downside however, as her voice compliments the formal tone which Lockwood drives for. Alongside Charles Standing’s impressive organ work, both musicians anchor the play in its tragic, rather than comic, roots.
The black suits and dresses worn by the cast could be simply due to student budgets, but the aesthetic compliments this sense of melancholy; as if our characters are already attending their funeral for Romeo and Juliet. Only the leading lovers break the mould of this fashion choice with the obvious white contrast, a production as black and white as the chessboard floor.
This seems to bleed into the cast however, as the majority of them lack the nuance and understanding of the text itself to make the play jump off the page. While actors such as Dominic Blight and William Holyhead provide noticeable depth to their minor roles od Balthasar and Tybalt, most lead characters give lifeless performances on the whole. Ahmed Green’s Capulet jumps between intense anger and suave coolness without any natural progression, Mehmet Ece never gains any air of authority as Escalus, and while our lead Romeo (Jack Noble) may give off a DiCaprio charm his delivery works against the meaning of his lines. Patrick Bone likewise disappoints as Mercutio whose camp bravado makes it easy to believe his death really is ‘but a scratch’.
Conversely, the chemistry between Juliet and the Nurse (Twyla Doone and Juliet Wallace) is strong throughout and the relationship between the two provides the best scenes in the play that only get better – notably the Nurse’s report of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. Doone herself stands as a fine Juliet who breathes life into the production which sometimes needs that resuscitation.
Lockwood’s tragedy is a formal affair, as serious as the sermons done in the very chapel that is their stage. Yet by attempting to adhere to a straight Romeo and Juliet Lockwood loses the comedy vital in the play’s first three acts. Any jokes that are spared in the production are drowned in the no-nonsense attitude that dominates the play. Some moments feel fresh, including the choreography of the fights and a grim death of the King of Cats, yet the majority feels tired and stale. I must respect the cast and crew for the work they have accomplished in the short time they had to put on the production (I recall it was three weeks rehearsal). Even so, this Romeo and Juliet feels too stiff as a whole, and could do with a bit more blood in its veins rather than on the bodies.