Director: Timothy Sheader
Composer: David Shrubsole
Details: Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London NW1 4NR
Tube: Baker Street
Performances: -Sat 8.00 pm, Matinees Thu and Sat 2.30 (ends 2 August)
Running time: 2h30
In short: A '50s-style, slicked-hair and flouncy-skirted update of Shakespeare's ultimate doomed romance, with mambo costumes and acrobatics thrown in for good measure.
In full: If the bard himself were still alive today (and if he had actually used women in his casts), then he would be happy to place Nicholas Shaw and Laura Donnelly in his title roles. The two have a palpable chemistry that sparks in each one of Romeo's love-drunk grins (nice smile, you) and Juliet's angsty sighs. The pair put on such a convincing show of swooning for each other, in fact, that it would be hard to believe they're not swooning in real life.
But enough unsubstantiated speculation about inner-cast romance. Timothy Sheader's version of this stage classic is a spicy but sweet retake on the original plot. The ball scene - when the lovers share their 'pilgrim' kiss - tones down a backdrop fit for an odd and raunchy music video, with a friar in sunglasses gawking at the busty young thing giving him a lap dance.
After the balcony scene, though, Romeo ventures away from Juliet and paces, mid-audience, gazing back at his love. For all of Sheader's suggestiveness, he shows sensitivity with an underwear-clad contemporary dance on the pair's wedding night that comes across more delicate than racy.
That said, it's not all sunshine and rainbows onstage. Knife fights between the Capulets and Montagues are carefully choreographed patterns of twisting and tumbling, ending with Tybalt and Mercutio's gory demise. When Juliet's nurse, played by Claire Benedict, realises the tragedy, her normal absent-minded calls of "Oh, ladybird!" and "Oh, love!" are replaced with blood-curdling screams and lung-draining sobs.
The fateful end of the lovers' romance turns strangely poetic, as the couple are nearly reunited in a way that Shakespeare never allowed them to be. After Juliet ends her life - in this version, with a bullet to the head - guilt-ridden onlookers delicately sprinkle the teen bride and her poisoned husband with handfuls of rose petals that counterbalance the gore of the previous deaths.
Despite the familiarity of the plot, the gesture feels tenderly heartbreaking. Sheader's debut as artistic director admittedly is not flawless, but it's moments like this that should make audience members wish the show had a longer run.
- Jill Hilbrenner
- 'Sheader is a gifted director whose work I have enjoyed in the past, but his first production as artistic director of the Regent's Park theatre is a strained effort that puts music, dance, and design first, Shakespeare last.' Rhoda Koenig, The Independent
- 'As Romeo, Nicholas Shaw is pretty much dream casting: he's got heart-throb looks, a quick-eyed intelligence and an angelic smile that could light up Hades. As Juliet, ravishing newcomer Laura Donnelly matches him for grace.' Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph