Watermill Theatre - Romeo and Juliet
25th February to 2nd April 2016
Review from Newbury Theatre.
As we took our seats, the cast were on stage playing guitars and singing, which carried on with background music into the start of the show. At this point I was slightly alarmed and felt this might not be the show for me, but I needn’t have worried. In his first production as the Watermill’s new artistic director, Paul Hart was setting out his stall for a vibrant, energetic and above all youthful play. Indeed, it is the professional stage debut for three of the cast, including Lucy Keirl as Juliet.
The presentation is in the round with an empty square black stage and a gallery above, augmented with a nightclub-style bar at the back. A bit disconcerting for the two rows of audience in between the stage and the bar!
Stuart Wilde as Romeo and Lucy Keirl are a pair of impetuous lovers, with a touch of cheekiness – Juliet thoughtfully smoking a fag upstairs is the cue for Romeo’s “what light from yonder window breaks”. Mike Slader’s estuary Capulet gives a nice contrast between his Jack-the-lad persona with his cronies and his viciousness with his wife and daughter. Peter Mooney’s Irish-accented Mercutio is overflowing with energy, Lauryn Redding gives a very strong performance as the no-nonsense Nurse, and I liked Rebecca Lee’s understated Friar Laurence.
Coming back to the music, it isn’t intrusive and there are three main songs which supplement the action: Juliet and Paris’s duet I Wish You Were the One, the wedding song and the closing song. These were all very well done, and according to the programme include ‘a range of pre-existing tracks and new compositions made in the rehearsal rooms’.
The youthful energy of the cast pervades the production and gives it a very fast pace. Perhaps a bit too rushed in places – Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech went over my head. Not all the sound effects worked well: a loud metallic clang on each mention of ‘banished’ or ‘banishment’ (23 of them in the original text!) soon became annoying and distracting.
There’s a lot to like in this very physical production, with shades of West Side Story. The strong acting performances from this cast in the early stages of their careers augurs well for the future.
Review from the British Theatre Guide.
The Watermill Theatre has gained an international reputation for producing Shakespeare’s plays, including promoting the all-male Propeller theatre company and foreign tours under the auspices of The British Council.
So it is perhaps fitting that Paul Hart, the new artistic director, should choose Romeo and Juliet as his debut production.
The theatre has been transformed into Capulet’s Club where audience members have to line up to get a stamp on their wrists before entering this fun nightclub.
The young cast are already on stage playing music on guitars, singing, dancing and creating a vibrant atmosphere. This is certainly a fresh and vivacious interpretation of the tragic story of the two star-crossed lovers.
It is staged in-the-round, designed by Katie Lias, with a bar filling up the back wall brimful of bottles of drinks with some of the audience bravely sitting in front of it.
This is very much a physical performance with impressive movement and fight sequences choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves and Ian McCracken.
This youthful company is committed and hard working with many making their professional stage debuts and it is with due credit that Hart has been brave enough to give these actors the opportunity to strut the stage for “the two hours traffic of our stage.”
Stuart Wilde cuts an arresting Romeo, relishing his role, overcome by the nervousness of an impetuous youth in love.
He is a Montague and, together with the swaggering effusive Mercutio (Peter Mooney) and his cousin Benvolio (Victoria Blunt), all fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol, plans to gatecrash the annual party of their archenemy, the Montagues.
It is here that Romeo meets Juliet (Lucy Keirl), the petulant, stroppy 14-year-old teenager as she sneaks out to the balcony to light up a cigarette and so the inevitable tragic love affair begins.
However the physical chemistry between the two lovers is not fully realised with Juliet appearing and acting much older than the character demands, which is a pity.
The conduit to the proceedings is Lauryn Redding’s blunt northern Nurse, always controlling and convincing. She is also powerful as the Prince of Verona.
Samantha Pearl gives an imposing performance as Lady Capulet, whilst her animated boisterous husband Lord Capulet (Mike Slader) is determined to marry his daughter to the most acceptable Paris (Ned Rudkins-Stow).
When the fiery smouldering Tybalt (Rupert Lazarus) finds out that the Montagues are at the party, he seeks retribution with disastrous results.
Rebecca Lee gives a sensitive performance as the caring horticulturist Friar Laurence whose ministry backfires when the plan for the two lovers catastrophically fails.
The music by Johnny Flynn, played and sung by the actors, brings a spirited dimension to the production and Tom White’s imaginative lighting is visually effective.
The poignant ending in the church is both heart-rending and powerfully portrayed.
Paul Hart’s inventive direction is filled with magic moments and will certainly be a hit with younger audiences.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Testament of youth
Paul Hart makes his Watermill directorial debut with Romeo+Juliet
Romeo+Juliet, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until April 2
Students will love this production – it rocks with all the impetuousness, rebellion and attitude of youth; faithful to Shakespeare's original text, yet contemporary in setting. It's a fresh and vibrant take, just as Paul Hart, in his first prduction at The Watermilll's director, wanted.
Fair Verona is a grimy nightclub, the Capulet's booze-filled gaff is a place where violence and passion simmer under the surface. Brave then, the row of audience that found themselves seated at the bar, embroiled in the action, in this theatre in the round. As were we all; our hands stamped as we entered the 'club', some of us handed drinks as we took our seats and the company of actor/musicians jammed on electric guitars. And so the scene was set for the destructive rivalry between the houses of Montague and Capulet.
So here's the twist: Young Juliet (Lucy Keirl) is a wannabe singer/songwriter. Headstrong, there's no way she's going to marry the deadly-dull Paris (Ned Rudkins-Stow), as arranged by her authoritarian father (the spivvy Mike Slader), as soon as she comes of age… Particularly not after she claps eyes on the 'fit' Emo Romeo. All black eyeliner and leather, Stuart Wilde is totally convincing, one minute infatuated by the fair Rosaline, besotted by Juliet the next… teenage hormones run riot. And she's not going to get any support from her 'minor celeb' mother Lady Capulet (Samantha Pearl). One night at the bar seals the young couple's fate and there's no going back. .
After drunken carousing with his Montague mates, Romeo throws caution to the wind, fetching up at the scaffolding balcony – "What light from yonder window breaks?" – to discover the sassy Juliet, in shorts and hoodie, waxing lyrical over a leisurely fag… cue ripples of laughter from the stalls.
The killing of Romeo's wayward buddy Mercutio (Peter Mooney) by the antagonistic Capulet, Tybalt (an edgy Rupert Lazarus), heightens tensions between the families, despite the best efforts of peacemaker Benvolio (Victoria Blunt). The course of true-love is thwarted, with Romeo banished and now sporting fluorescent orange 'correctional facility' overalls. The clock is ticking for the star-crossed lovers with nowhere to go.
Juliet buys into the impulsive and ultimately disastrous 'poison' plan, assisted by Friar Laurence (Rebecca Lee) and her brash Northern nurse (a stand-out performance by Lauryn Redding). Romeo returns and, devastated by his soulmate's 'death', plunges a knife into his chest. Juliet awakes to discover his body next to hers and knocks back a lethal dose.
Music is integral to the action, underscoring the flashpoints. Tracks by Mumford & Sons, The Hives, Johnny Flynn, The Vaccines and The Civil Wars all feature; original and reworked, with contributions by the cast – to powerful effect in the death scene. Following a poignant Mumford & Sons moment, the 'hoodies' that at the start of the play embodied youth and defined the chorus, became ritualistic as they lift the young lovers' bodies.
Hart has drawn the 10-strong cast from fresh young talent across the country in collaboration with the National Youth Theatre and leading drama colleges, to "explore this great play about youth". The company's assuredness and fine ensemble performances belie the fact that they are all young actors and recent graduates, with Keirl and Lee making their professional debuts.
That said, my problem with the production was that Juliet's character lacked the innocence of a 13-year-old and her physical appearance was too 'knowing', I just didn't 'feel the love'. But there's undoubtedly huge potential here.
This company isn't all-male, but you sense it could be Propeller's love-child. Not surprising, given that Hart has been an associate director to – and many of the creatives have worked with – Ed Hall's innovative Shakespearean theatre group that was grown at The Watermill and achieved international acclaim.
There's a company in the making here. Fresh. And that's an exciting prospect.
There are reviews from The Stage ("a fresh and richly coloured take on a timeless tale, at once faithful to the text and comfortable in a modern idiom... vibrant, youthful production that successfully evokes the intoxicating rush of thwarted love" 4 stars), Reviews Hub ("the theatre continues to be a space with endless possibilities, and the effort put into this interpretation of Romeo and Juliet is commendable... unfulfilled" - 3 stars), WhatsOnStage ("exhilarating... Hart's production promises an exciting future for the Watermill") - 4 stars.