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Review: Shakespeare’s R&J

The all male production of Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s R&J is an all male telling of the classic story set within the walls of a strict religious boarding school. As the gaggle of energetic lads stumble upon the text for the first time, we witness their jovial exploration of the timeless lovers and the effect it has on their own lives.

Cast mates shun their lover friends after testosterone filled pillow fights, while Juliet, of course played by a boy, daringly unbuttons Romeo’s shirt and indulges in some tentative kissing. This production has all the adolescent charm you’d expect from its location of choice but not much more.

New play it ain’t, the stripped back approach works well to revitalise Shakespearean text and if you’re usually put off by the big scary bard I assure you that you’ll follow this story with ease. The young and passionate cast all demonstrate impressive control of language while juggling with the play’s context, despite falling slightly short towards the end. It seems on occasion the concept inhibits pace and the constant step back put the breaks on some fine performances.

That being said this re-telling gives way to vigorous, imaginative and playful storytelling, which delightfully stays organic throughout. It’s fantastic to witness such youthfulness poured into Shakespeare and if you like a little rough play, the boys serve all of the teenage masculinity without any of the camp.

Alexander Morris’ Juliet is subtle and inviting, steering clear of highlighting gender, instead offering a truthful and reflective performance. Richard Hall shines in his variety of characters and the handsome James Burman has a naive woundedness that sits perfectly with Romeo.

Many years on from the first outing of this production it begs the question whether Joe Calarco’s work is worth revisiting? With so much change in the gay sphere since it was originally conceived the show is bound to pack less of a punch, but the terrified teenage boys tenderly touching each other’s hand for the first time is something we can all fill with warm nostalgia.

The timeless reinvention of Shakespeare’s work means R&J is bound to have another jaunt and rightly so, as it’s forced open wide by what is essentially a celebration of the joy and experience of performing.

Calarco tells us for eighteen years he’s been refusing to use the word ‘gay’ in regards to his play. Which hopefully says more about the theatre industry than his own self-criticism, but with this production he is finally embracing the (quite obvious!) gay vibes. Well Joe, we are glad you have and welcome to the family!

Tickets are available from the Tabard Theatre box office or via Tabard Theatre

This production is presented by arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited.

GT gives R&J – 4/5

Words Tom Cox

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