The big hype for this production at Lewisham’s spirited Broadway venue is the recorded TV contribution of Channel 4’s noted news presenter Jon “no poppy” Snow.
He opens proceedings as a Middle East newsman reporting the area’s troubles and the enmity of the Capulet and Montague families. Over in a trice. Arrive late and you’ll miss it. Hardly worth his or our trouble.
The set is mainly two ramshackle wooden towers, one of which serves as Juliet’s balcony. Director Cameron Jack’s approach to the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers is to make it contemporary, with a Middle East setting, to appeal to today’s teenagers.
Hence the cast are mainly young, with most playing two parts, and Jack Roth as Romeo wears combat trousers, grubby tank tops, trainers and smokes. There is even a jive-type scene, helping with excitement.
Strangely, rather than the blighted lovers of the title, it is the ample-framed Nurse of Wendy Albiston who catches the ear and eye. She is a delight in her caring role and, whether jesting, sobbing, or aiding Juliet, she dominates.
There is violence in profusion with fists flying, knife battles, revolvers brandished and fired and bodies carried off stage. Plus, of course, the double deaths of the young couple. And not a doublet in sight.
Roth’s Romeo looks hardly the handsome hero type but, word perfect and with his earnest energy, he merits the love of innocent Juliet. Not to mention his steamy passion on reaching her balcony.
Katie Howell is an ideal heroine. Never mind that her Capulet family and the Montagues hate each other, she convinces that her naive love for Romeo can overcome enmity.
Wrong. However, the deaths of the pair on a bare stage makes for a truly dramatic finale. Jon Snow would have done five minutes to camera on that disaster. He could also have praised Tim Crowther’s Mercutio and Caroline Cromei’s lovely Lady Capulet.