The Watermill Theatre are churning out success after success, and their current UK tour of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet alongside Twelfth Night is proving the fresh vibrancy of their creative productions.
Set inside a grungy bar, plastered in posters with a Capulets sign shining above the bar, it has an incredibly modern and gritty feel for it already. Ahead of the official start of the production, the cast are wandering around the stage in grey hoodies improvising with the instruments and microphones, providing live music of current pop ballads and hits.
As Shakespeare’s most tragic and iconic all-consuming love story, it has been performed throughout the decades, but this particular production feels as if it has been written yesterday. Despite sticking to the original text, the staging and characterisation reflects modern life. Whilst, of course, it has its extremities, ultimately it is a teenage love story which is what young people’s lives are centered around – heartbreak, anguish and conflict.
The integration of live music within the piece provokes high-energy from the cast and a pacy performance. Fitting with the urban vibe, the powerful bass and haunting yet electrifying rock music brings the production to life. The brooding atmosphere created by the live instruments adds to the lust and passion of Romeo and Juliet.
The urban love story is enhanced by the physicality of the piece. The ensemble bode well together to create a movement that shadows the drama of the story. They create a striking ending to the first act in which they foreshadow the events to come in a harrowing and chillingly effective way.
The central characters, Aruhan Galieva as Juliet and Stuart Wilde as Romeo capture the youthfulness of the roles. It is a strong depiction of the young love that Shakespeare envisioned, and their playful naivety is intriguing to watch. Wilde’s black leather jacket and smouldering eyeliner reflects the emotional angst of the role, and his passion borders on obsession, creating a captivating performance. Galieva’s portrayal of Juliet is interesting as she depicts the role as much more mischievous than Shakespeare may have written. She is bold and feisty in her shorts and baggy t-shirt as she smokes on the balcony during the famous scene. However, I wasn’t consistently convinced by the chemistry between Wilde and Galieva, as sometimes it didn’t feel natural.
Emma McDonald as Lady Capulet is superb, she really manages to encapsulate the strength and forward nature of modern women and balance it well with the language of the play. Equally, Lauryn Redding’s performance as the Nurse is strong, as her warmth and assertiveness guides Juliet as she grows up.
Romeo and Juliet is witty, relevant and excellently dark, which is amplified by the inventive music and commanding physicality.