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Romeo and Juliet review at Shakespeare’s Globe, London – ‘macabre and raucous’

Kirsty Bushell and Edward Hogg in Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare's Globe, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Kirsty Bushell and Edward Hogg in Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare's Globe, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Death permeates Daniel Kramer’s opener for Emma Rice’s final season as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe.

Romeo and Juliet has always been a tough nut to crack dramatically – too often it can feel like a play of treacle and cliche. Kramer’s approach is to throw a lot of stuff at it, while revelling in the play’s more macabre elements.

He cites HBO’s Six Feet Under as an influence and it shows. An open grave is ever present at the front of the stage, surrounded by a little carpet of Astroturf. The characters all wear black, their faces painted white. Designer Soutra Gilmour has suspended two huge warheads above the stage. The production opens with the Ladies Capulet and Montague being wheeled out on gurneys cradling little infant coffins in their arms.

And yet, this production is not devoid of warmth. Nor is it afraid to be silly. The party scene is fun, albeit in a way that’s a little predictable. There are mirror balls and sparkly things tumbling from the ceiling, and daddy Capulet in a dinosaur suit singing YMCA.

Amid all this, Edward Hogg’s emo Romeo comes across as a charming mix of Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman and Alex from A Clockwork Orange.

Kirsty Bushell is a smart, funny, awkward Juliet, stalking the stage in her black Dr Martens boots. The lovers are both charismatic, and they have the requisite chemistry – but she’s the heart of the piece. Together they have fun with the play’s moments of teenage giddiness.

The interplay between Bushell and Blythe Duff’s Nurse is also nicely played and there’s real warmth in the relationship between Golda Rosheuvel’s Mercutio (a fascinating casting choice, but one that’s frustratingly underexplored) and Jonathan Livingstone’s Benvolio.

What’s missing is a sense of connection between them, and Romeo. Mercutio’s death scene is nowhere near as moving as it might be. Though different cultural funerary rituals form a key part of the production, grief is too often absent. The staging’s cartoonish qualities get the better of it at times – the big showdown with Tybalt comes perilously close to resembling one of the Joel Schumacher Batman movies.

Kramer’s approach is about as far from polite as you can get. It waggles its posterior in the face of the purists. There is voice-over and strobe lighting, nipple tassels and, in one scene, nipple licking. Those contentious speakers are given a good work out, and there are moments where you can almost hear the sphincters of the more timid members of the Globe’s board tightening.

Some of Kramer’s decisions are baffling, others misfire badly, but his production is never dull. He animates this most frustrating of plays, even if he doesn’t get under the skin of these two teens wedded to death.

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Emma Rice’s second season at the Globe opens with this raucous, brash, and death-soaked take on Shakespeare’s play of young love