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Romeo and Juliet at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury – ‘vibrant and youthful’

Lucy Keirl in Romeo and Juliet at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury. Photo: Philip Tull Lucy Keirl in Romeo and Juliet at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury. Photo: Philip Tull

With the galleried Watermill decked out as Capulet’s, a grungy dive-bar with free-flowing booze and peeling posters, intoxication of all kinds courses through this youthful Romeo and Juliet. Paul Hart’s first production as artistic director seats the audience on bar stools to encircle the action.

Initially hesitant, Stuart Wilde convinces as Romeo: an elfin emo kid, all eyeliner and impetuosity, egged on by his Montague mates to down shots and crash the party of the year. When Juliet, the quietly rebellious Lucy Keirl, nips out on to the balcony for a cheeky spliff, he clambers up to meet her and those famous lines fall into place, capturing their mutual infatuation.

Lauryn Redding’s no-nonsense northern nurse and Peter Mooney’s loquacious, absinthe-swigging Mercutio occasionally threaten to steal the show, but the band scenes prove effective at crucial moments: a raucous Hives number at Capulet’s party contrasts with Mumford and Sons’ White Blank Page sung during the delicately ritualistic marriage ceremony.

When Romeo is banished to Mantua, his conversation with Friar Laurence runs concurrently with Juliet’s with the nurse, highlighting the urgency of their shared plight. Tom Jackson Greaves’ movement direction comes to the fore when Juliet takes the sleeping draught and is literally transported, trance-like, by a cabal of hoodie-clad wraiths.

At times the amplified music scrappily obscures a few words, and the fight scenes can veer towards cartoon caricature, but overall, it’s a fresh and richly coloured take on a timeless tale, at once faithful to the text and comfortable in a modern idiom.

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Vibrant, youthful production that successfully evokes the intoxicating rush of thwarted love