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Romeo and Juliet at Bolton Octagon

Published by: Caroline May on 5th Feb 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May
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Shakespeare’s timeless tale of star-cross’d lovers has been updated by director David Thacker to a world of streetwise, knife-wielding gangs and super-rich, Gucci-clad capitalists.  At first glance the conflict seems not to be so much the old family grudge between the Montagues and Capulets as the generational divide between grungy, dressed-down youths who stalk the city’s streets and their sharply-suited, buttoned-up parents.  Even the Nurse is all lipstick and designer labels.  No wonder isolated only-child Juliet is attracted to the first jeans-and-t-shirt boy she meets - a far cry from the balding, middle-aged bloke her parents have in mind for her husband.

To say this production is in-the-round and set on a bare stage doesn’t begin to do justice to the way the creative team have used the auditorium, managing to be both intimate (when the action is focused on the naked stage) and vast (when the stairs and rear-walkways are lit up).  Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting design is a character in its own right, and the simple but effective way he creates a starry night sky in a black box theatre is a tiny miracle.  The sheer simplicity of designer Ruari Murchison’s set and balcony is a great achievement, like the RSC’s glory days at the Barbican Pit Theatre.

This technical backbone allows director David Thacker to create one of the slickest, fastest-paced productions around; scene melts into scene seamlessly, props are silently spirited away, the actors make music live on stage, and characters suddenly appear among the audience - it’s a fully immersive event.

David Ricardo-Pearce and Jade Anouka avoid the temptation to play the iconic roles of Romeo and Juliet as tragic figures (which they aren’t, until the end).  They rediscover the story by extracting every bit of meaning from the text, and even the famous speeches of the balcony scene sound like brand new dialogue.  Theirs isn’t a poetic portrayal of eternal lovers but a modern take on teenage relationships.

Rob Edwards as the pin-striped, cigar-chomping Capulet is both urbane and ruthless - he speaks the verse beautifully and is convincing as both an indulgent father and a tyrannical paterfamilias.  Paula Jennings’ impassive and self-contained Lady Capulet suggests a trophy wife who’s either extensively self-medicating with gin or who has overdone the botox.

Michelle Collins is very funny as a coutured Cockney nurse, and Lloyd Gorman’s attractive and confident portrayal of Benvolio turns a minor character into a pivotal role, while Colin Connor’s muscular-Christian Friar Lawrence is a potent presence and his Irish accent works like a charm with the Elizabethan language.

This is a full-bodied and exciting modern-dress classic that doesn’t patronise its audience.  Let’s hope for some more Shakespeare at the Octagon soon.

 

Romeo and Juliet is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 5 March 2011

Tickets: from £9.50

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30pm

Matinees: Fri 4, Wed 23 & Sat 26 Feb 2pm

Box Office: 01204 520661

www.octagonbolton.co.uk

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