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Romeo and Juliet review at Everyman Theatre, Liverpool – ‘visceral and compelling’

George Caple and Elliott Kingsley in Romeo and Juliet at Everyman Theatre, Liverpool. Photo: Gary Calton Nick Bagnall’s revival of Romeo and Juliet performed by Liverpool's Young Everyman Playhouse company. Photo: Gary Calton
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Rarely can Friar Laurence’s line “Holy St Francis! What a change is here…” have been so loaded with meaning than in Nick Bagnall’s electrifying reading of Romeo and Juliet.

For this, the fifth production in the Everyman’s repertory season, Bagnall has trimmed the text, tightened the pace and transformed Juliet into Julius.

The overwhelming appeal of this re-working lies in the gender reversal never feeling like a concept dropped into the play. In fact, with other characters such as Paris, Benvolio and Balthasar played as women, the tragedy genuinely seems to make much more sense in this context. Julius’ aversion to the match with Paris, and Romeo’s abrupt dismissal of Rosaline are completely natural as soon as they set eyes on each other.

George Caple and Elliott Kingsley give fiercely passionate performances as Romeo and Julius, and are surrounded by a tremendous cast.

The company is augmented by members of Young Everyman Playhouse, so that there are 45 players on stage, and Kev McCurdy’s movement and fight direction is astounding. The family warfare plays out with terrifying realism on Molly Elizabeth Lacey Davies’ brutalist, industrial set, with Tybalt’s death being particularly chilling.

This is not just another example of the trend in re-imagining Shakespeare’s leading roles. It’s a thought-provoking and deeply compelling view of the text. Some of the harder to believe aspects of the narrative are given purpose and meaning, and every modification to the play can be fully justified. This is a spectacular conclusion to the Everyman’s company season.

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Verdict
A raging, visceral and deeply compelling view of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers
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