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Romeo and Juliet review at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds – ‘thrilling and intense’

Tessa Parr and Dan Parr in Romeo and Juliet at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Anthony Robling
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Hot-headed youth doesn’t only take a bow at the start of Amy Leach’s thrilling production when rival teen tribes break out in a mass brawl.

From its scary out-of-control beginning to a dream-like ending that goes beyond the woeful tale of self-destructing youngsters and reunites the dead lovers in a safe selfie heaven where there is no killing, this entire production is young at heart, including Young People’s Company members completely integrated into the action.

Leach’s interpretation bridges the generation gap too. Dressed in high street fashion, both Romeo and Juliet could have strayed in from any hang-out in Leeds, although it’s soon clear that mutual hatred is learned behaviour – ancient Montague-Capulet grudges recycled and handed down.

This is Shakespeare with the heat turned up, staged with sizzling panache on a vast grey concrete circle with elevated walkways vanishing into the Quarry Theatre vastness and a huge metallic sun beating down on the inevitable tragedy. Within Leach’s summer of hatred vision, some gender-blind casting creates a fearsome female Mercutio (Elexi Walker) played as a party girl sending up the boys, and Olwen May as a female Reverend Laurence coping with her own complicity.

Dan Parr is a thoroughly modern Romeo – laddish but vulnerable, impulsive and impassioned when instant attraction overwhelms. But I was moved to tears by the amazing Tessa Parr (no relation) whose Juliet seems to grow up before your very eyes, from awkward adolescent surrendering to confused emotions, to finally discovering how hate murders youthful hope.

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A thrilling, intelligent and intense vision of youth destroyed by hatred