Despite two productions of Romeo and Juliet having already been performed at King’s College in under a year, John Moore and Matt Hodson still aim to make their director’s mark (and debut) with the ‘story of more woe’. Yet this time around there’s a clear distinction with the other productions, as their R+J is an abbreviation for Romeo and Julian, not Juliet. This time around, Romeo and Julian serves a homosexual reading of the play that stands it apart from previous productions in its clear message.
Of course, for a play focused on this reading, the play revolves around Romeo and ‘Julian’ even more than usual. Because the two leads are crucial to the foundations of Moore and Hodson’s concept, their chemistry is essential to the play’s survival as a queer translation of the play. Michael Malay’s Romeo finds his stride in the emotional tantrums in the final acts, but fails to grasp the romance and nuance of the protagonist overall. As for Julian (played by Peter Blank), his portrayal cripples the audience’s sympathies with the lovers. Perhaps it was directorial, or maybe it was solely the performance, but Julian pouts and whines his lines in the same monotonous manner that it grates the audience’s ears. Even if Julian was a teenager, it becomes hard to follow a character that is deliberately strops his way around the stage. The chemistry between the two suffers, as neither truly show any form of affection or attraction to one another which sadly undercuts the play as a whole. The rest of the cast fill their roles fine, though lose clarity with the constant shouting or rushing of words. Yet Alexandra Raphaela serves as a spunky Mercutio, pulling off the provocative bravado that is often missed (though perhaps too much limb-work) and the Nurse (Asana) ranks as the best performance of the play with a natural charisma to the role.
In regards to set, the Tutu’s venue (popular with King’s students) is staged with a chalkboard tube map of ‘Verona’, and a set of white doors that give a whiff of a Chelsea scene. Then the cast come on with the expectation of a unified ‘Both Households’ chorus. Instead, a cacophony of urban mutterings sweep the stage and hustle around. This is the beginning of the recurring R+J scene change: the actors spout train jargon and shift the doors into walls and rooms for different scenes. While the changes are hectic, the multiplicity of the set proves effective in conjuring an interior world for the play. The use of chorus as props is less successful, as one actress bizarrely pretends to be a painting and the trope is never used again but for a brief chuckle.
The lighting and sound are mostly bland washing for the actors on stage. Rarely do the lights or sound effects bring anything to the scenes, except for the brief spotlight in the ‘balcony’ scene and the a capella masked ball (didn’t Capulet hire a band?). The costumes sometimes proved visually telling on many characters – especially both ‘Lady Montagues’, the domestic nurse, and the high society Capulets. But the concept often clashed with story leading to weird results. A notable example was the business who looked out of place in their brawls, and even stranger rugby-tackling each other without a weapon. Despite mentions of rapiers and daggers, most characters karate-chopped each other in awkward fashion. All of this became clear to me however, when I found no mention of a lighting, set or costume designer in the credits.
Framed as a ‘Made-In-Verona’, R+J attempts to explore the hatred beyond two households at war. This homosexual adaptation of the play may have a positive, universal message in mind, but these good intentions can’t hold this play together. A lack of clarity in vision and an underpowered cast diffuse any sentiments to be communicated on the stage. With a bloated script too, this leaves the audience with a three-hour Romeo and Juliet that is not as star-crossed as anticipated.