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Romeo & Juliet – Dystopian Provocation
Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
Strong women, knife crime and a strange sense of dark foreboding are the clear hallmarks of Erica Whyman’s production of Romeo & Juliet, which takes a timeworn script but cleverly sheds new light on something we are all so familiar with.

And it is interesting that as everyone is seemingly falling to the ground at the
end of an RSC blade at Bradford’s Alhambra, the harrowing subject of knife crime is also being articulated at Leeds Playhouse in Debbie Tucker Green’s award-winning play, Random.

It is a subject that has never been more in the spotlight and Royal Shakespeare Company Deputy Artistic Director, Whyman, has been quick to jump on this bandwagon, using it not only as an opportunity to examine male ego and crime, but also as a way to reimagine certain characters afresh.

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Women are central to this new take on Shakespeare’s classic. Beth Cordingly as Escalus is the strident ‘Prince’ of Verona, ironically berating those men who can only find peace in their warring ways and by bloodletting.

Charlotte Josephine is the extremely physical, kickboxer-type Mercutio, whilst Donna Banya is Gregory, a participant in the violence but the voice that challenges those who would belittle rape and violence against women.

At first I really was unsure about this production. The words were the same but it was stark, grey, metallic – a huge, metal cube structure was the central theme on stage with all performance around and within it.

But it was very much a multi-cultural cast, reflective of 2019 and clearly designed to communicate to a younger audience; very dark but very clever.

Local children formed part of the dynamic cast and we see black, white and Asian faces on stage which really does challenge Shakespearian convention at all quarters.

Pounding ‘grunge’ music, dark edgy costumes, modern attitude, egos and periodic disregard for human life, leave you with the feeling that you are glad to be in the audience because life in such an environment would be just too hard to bear.

Whyman is certainly making a statement with her production. On the one hand she is urging her audience to consider what is happening in wider society, to ask why young people are prepared to carry and use knives.

But, at another level, she is also representing her own sex by questioning stereotypes and being prepared to exploit the sexual nuances of Shakespeare’s often veiled script, whilst turning traditional casting on its head.

Enjoy? I am not sure that’s a word I would use because this Verona is not pretty buildings with climbing plants and good looking, thrusting young men, but a stark, almost dystopian world that leaves you feeling slightly uncomfortable.

It will provoke you but even if it is cold outside, the snowflakes within are guaranteed protection from the brutal, cold reality of Whyman’s challenging production.

Romeo & Juliet
Alhambra, Bradford
Until Saturday 16th February 2019

Romeo & Juliet – Dystopian Provocation, 13th February 2019, 9:25 AM