Sunday, 23 April 2017

REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet at Greenwich Theatre

What a wonderful exercise Merely Theatre has created for actors, in that five out of ten in the company are picked out randomly for a new show every night. In their second year of rep theatre, they are presenting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. I had the joy of witnessing the former, a highly energetic 90-minute production with laughs, high energy and heartbreak.

Merely Theatre are not only bringing repertory theatre back, they also employ men and women equally, meaning that an actor from any gender could be playing any character. With the help of costumes and of course imagination, gender falls away, leaving even more space for the characters.

The audience is welcomed by contemporary pop music and a bare set, except for blue and white curtains forming a semi-circle at the back of the stage. Suddenly, the chorus, played on this night by Tamara Astor, emerges from the darkness and clearly sets the Verona scene. Soon enough, the other four actors launch the story with fast delivery and hardly a beat between scenes. We meet the two families and lovers who move from innocent teenage flirt to a dangerous reality bigger than them. 

We all have had the experience of watching Shakespeare when it is over-analysed and over-serious. Here, despite the tragic character of this play, we are never bored, and on the contrary eagerly await the end of the interval and what comes next! 

The actors’ energy and quick movements ensure high attention from the audience. What I loved about this show was that it brought a new clarity to the text as well as humour: there was a moment when I couldn’t believe Simon Grujich had changed so fast from Tybalt to Juliet! 

While in the first half of the production there were some laughs at the gender swapping happening in the cast, the second half’s dramatic crescendo quickly took that away. What is more, the performances were so good that no one really cared who was playing who. 

Sarah Preachy was romantic and passionate as Romeo/Prince/Gregory, while
Tamara Astor was funny and switched roles with ease as Benvolio/Nurse. I thought she was perfectly suited to both roles, and showed an ease at being funny and connecting with the audience. Simon Grujich was excellent as Juliet and Tybalt, especially in the contrast he brought to his physicality, and Robert Myles also brought wisdom and vivacity to Friar Laurence/Paris/Montague/Sampson. Finally, David Gerits was confident and intriguing as Mercutio/Capulet/Apothecary, while bringing precision and playfulness to every word. That’s a keyword with Merely Theatre, I think: playfulness. The actors are running around, playing with their audience, keeping it involved. What fun it must be as an actor to switch characters in this way, bringing out the ensemble and the play and surely forgetting about ego.

I believe that artistic director Scott Ellis has created something unique and full of life here. His productions are not weighed down by any superficial decoration or costume design – it is clear, and goes to the heart of the text, as was first intended. As Merely Theatre is touring with these two plays over the summer, I hope they will have the opportunity to perform outside, as the lightness, adaptiveness and spirit of their show would certainly lend itself to nature. 

This is definitely a stand-out performance and company!

Review by Sophie Tergeist 

Rating: ★★★★★
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