Many people have expectations or ideas when they hear Romeo and Juliet. It could be grand ideas of Elizabethan costumes or a tragic teen romance, but the recent production at the Globe likely had many reassessing these ideas.
An extraordinary cast, led by Alfred Enoch of How to Get Away with Murder fame in the titular role of Romeo, comes on at the beginning with everyone dressed in red and black colored contemporary clothes. One by one, all of them introduce themselves, and the band, while Mercutio recites the famous opening. The show then kicks off not with dramatic Shakespearean language but a statistic. Throughout the entire production, this sharing continues with several actors breaking their character to share a fact or statement about teen mental health, the effects of a damaged home, or societal dangers. These facts are repeated on an LED screen at the top of the stage like an ominous foretelling of the scene below. From this, it becomes very clear that this is no longer a story of love.
The play itself has had cuts made, like many productions of Shakespeare’s works. Those who know Romeo and Juliet like the back of their hands might find themselves thinking this production lacking in romance. While many of the romantic soliloquies that are well known are cut, a different and rougher version of this beloved play arises.
This interpretation emphasizes the tragedy at the heart of this show and the actions that cause it. This is a stage that is rarely still with actors riding BMX bikes and violent fights and encounters happening often. Music can be heard in the background, loud, brassy, and percussive, bringing greater levels of tension to the story. This choice in keeping actions over romance coupled with the statistics give a darker story.
Romeo and Juliet are no longer two love-struck teenagers who are driven by their passions. They are two teens who find comfort in each other in a world where violence finds them both at home and in society. The choices of the director and company give a production that finds itself aimed at a younger audience. It creates a story that many can relate to or see themselves in and then follows up the action with resources to get help if they related to any content.
While this is may not be a production for the Shakespeare purist, it is well worth the time to go and see it.
Photo credit: Rebekah Murrell as Juliet and Alfred Enoch as Romeo in Romeo & Juliet, Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2021. Photographer: Marc Brenner