What is there to say about Romeo and Juliet that hasn’t already been said? It’s arguably the most famous play in existence: not only has it been performed countless times across the world for centuries, there are also a fair number of new interpretations of, or shows inspired by, Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. From West Side Story to &Juliet – you don’t have to look far to see Romeo and Juliet’s influence on contemporary theatre. American playwright Rachel Garnet’s Starcrossed – already critically acclaimed in the US and now making its UK debut at London’s gorgeous Wilton’s Music Hall – is another excellent addition to the canon.
The star-crossed lovers in this rendition are not Romeo and Juliet but in fact their respective wingmen Mercutio and Tybalt. Proceedings start in a familiar fashion, and those who know the original play will recognise the initial scenes and much of the original text. Where we see the plot begin to diverge is at the masked ball; the narrative focus shifts away from Romeo and Juliet and over to Mercutio and Tybalt. We see them arguing in the garden and, after much alcohol has been consumed, they share a quick drunken kiss – and so sets up the rest of the play.
The show works well for a number of reasons. We were impressed by how intact the original story remained – of course the focus of our attention is elsewhere, but this is still recognisably Romeo and Juliet, complete with all the key scenes and important quotes (albeit shone in a new light). Those who aren’t so familiar with the original text will still be gripped – we felt genuinely invested in our central pair, as their relationship is allowed plenty of room to grow and develop, which is something quite rare. There’s a real authenticity and believability here.
There’s some impressive acting on display, too. Connor Delves presents a sassy and playful Mercutio, while Tommy Sim’aan is a dutiful and concerned Tybalt. Both are strong, but stealing the show is Gethin Alderman in an ‘everything else’ role – from Romeo to Paris to (brilliantly, if only briefly) Juliet – he flits from comedy to drama effortlessly.
We were thoroughly impressed by Starcrossed – a show so thoughtful and clever that we’re not sure we’ll ever think about Romeo and Juliet in the same way again. It’s a play we’d gladly recommend: full of fine acting performances, it pays homage to the original while sensitively updating the text and narrative threads for a modern audience. Our lovers’ acknowledgement that “our love was perfect and meant for better days” really spoke to us – in the knowledge that we, notionally, live in those ‘better days’ even though sometimes it may not feel that way. If you’re looking to check out some queer culture this Pride month – look no further.
GAY TIMES gives Starcrossed – 4/5
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