It is always something of a treat to see an ultra-modern reimagining of literature’s most famous love story and Rachel Valentine Smith’s production of Romeo and Juliet, which forms one third of the Faction’s current Rep season at the New Diorama, is just this.
The text is pretty much uncut, but the play whips along, rarely missing a beat and holding the attention from its opening, energetic sequence to the lovers’ death at its conclusion. The presentation is reminiscent of a The Only Way is Essex style voyeurism as the young protagonists’ courtship unfolds and the gang culture is played out on the modern-day street and in clubs and bars. The gifted hoodie-clad cast double, sometimes triple up in their roles to make this a slick nine-hander.
Though the dull club-beat that throbs in the background throughout definitely enhances the atmosphere, it can be distracting at times. Coupled with this, sometimes the more physical Shakespeare becomes, the more the language can occasionally go amiss. Whilst, for example, Christopher York’s Romeo is always endearing, some of his speeches are a little rushed; he’s definitely more Yorkshire than Geordie, though. Clare Latham makes an excellent, softly-spoken Juliet and Kate Sawyer’s velour track-suited, chain-smoking, chavvy nurse is both hilariously funny and brilliantly poignant in her grief as she weeps over the dead children at the end.
The real highlight, though, is the balcony scene. Beautifully performed and imaginatively lit, it is everything this scene should be. One really could hear the proverbial pin drop.
This is an enjoyable, accessible piece which, if the reaction of the school children in the auditorium that evening was anything to go by, has clearly been captivating and educating audiences of all ages.