The question of whether to tamper with Shakespeare’s words in productions for young audiences is a big one. On the one hand it diminishes the poetry, but on the other it undoubtedly makes the narrative easier to follow.
This co-production from Contender Charlie and China Plate takes a halfway house approach. The Friar becomes a modern-day, street talking narrator who can “bench press 150 pounds” and also communicate the tragedy of young love taken too soon. It’s a device that works well in Nick Walker’s adaptation, helped by a powerfully persuasive performance from Nathan Medina.
The rest of the cast mostly speak original text, which is filleted down to 70 minutes. This means characters including the nurse and Benvolio are lost, while Juliet’s parents are confined to a screen cameo. But the brisk pacing of Paul Warwick and Ben Walden’s production ensures these omissions are barely felt.
There’s an emo quality to Anna Soden’s Juliet – she channels her moods into her electric guitar – while Adam Newington’s Romeo has more of a boyband charm. They are both fittingly full-blooded interpretations, balancing convincing chemistry with lucid verse. There’s also strong support from Chay February (Tybalt) and Jack Brett (Mercutio), fighting brutally on the traverse stage.
This isn’t a purist’s vision of Shakespeare for young people. But it’s great to see a production that takes bold steps to engage a generation swamped by screens in the classics. Judging from the rapt faces around me, it’s successful in its intentions.