Romeo and Juliet is not my favourite Shakespeare play. The first half is great- a fast paced, exciting portrait of a society which is deeply fractured and dysfunctional- but in the second half the writing loses momentum and becomes just a bit self indulgent. Having said that there is a lot that can be done with it so that even someone like me leaves the theatre both moved and shaken. The Tobacco Factory production comes as close to reconciling the two halves of the play as I have seen.
There are some excellent performances. Romeo (Paapa Essiedu) and Juliet (Daisy Whalley) are young, naïve and urgent, just as they should be. I liked the way that the Capulet’s marriage was laid bare in just a few pointed moments along the way by Fiona Sheehan and Timothy Knightly. The older members of this society have a lot to answer for, they are the carefully hidden and varnished reason why their young people are running amok and this is clearly shown. Nothing they do or say is quite real. Their souls have been sold a long time ago in favour of pleasure and shallow self indulgence. Those few decent minded young people, like Benvolio and Paris (who might well have made Juliet very happy if she had never seen Romeo) are on a hiding to nothing. Benvolio is a nice part- I usually end up falling for him just a little bit and I did it again. It was good to be close enough to see every detail of Callum McIntyre’s performance. I think he will have a good career ahead of him. I would have liked a stronger Tybalt and clearer verse speaking from time to time and I’m not sure that I was entirely happy with what the production did with the nurse as a character (as distinct from the performance) but all the acting was honest and heartfelt. There were two performances which I absolutely loved, Oliver Hoare as Mercutio and Paul Currier as Friar Laurence. Mercutio is a fascinating character- a potentially dangerous lost soul- and that kind of presence is a very difficult thing for an actor to pull off. I believed in him absolutely and in his relationship with Benvolio particularly- someone who knows him all too well. It was also a very fine stage death made real at close quarters. Paul Currier was as good a Friar Laurence as I ever hope to see, a liberal, well meaning priest who may well have had a murky past. His pain and guilt in the final scene were electrifying to watch and lifted the end of the play. Someone needs to care as the older generation are almost certainly going to paper over the cracks again whatever platitudes they may come out with and he did.
The direction by Andrew Hilton is fast paced. The fights and the violence are really convincing- even in a small space where there is an audience on all sides and nowhere to hide. The costumes are very strong- Fiona Sheehan in particular had some wonderful clothes to wear- and with little set to look at and gain information from this really mattered. The stage design worked beautifully in the small space of the Stephen Joseph, a simple working Merry Go Round which could be taken apart to provide weapons and have a shiny surface revealed underfoot for the Capulet’s decadent masked ball. I love that kind of clever, minimal design that gives you nothing unnecessary and makes every aspect earn its keep.
This was a very clearly thought out account of the play with some strong performances. I always enjoy the Tobacco Factory’s visits to Scarborough. They are one of the best small scale Shakespeare companies in the country and we are lucky to see them so far from their home.