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Review: Romeo and Juliet at the Everyman ****1/2

Everyman Theatre regulars will surely be used to director Nick Bagnall’s striking approach to the Bard by now.

There was A Midsummer Night’s Dream with fairies in Milk Tray Man (or burglar, depending on your viewpoint) black, and Dean Nolan’s outrageous, scene-stealing Bottom – which, I might warn you, makes a literal appearance again.

Then we had The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where Val Doonican squares faced off against groovy swinging hipsters, and the Outlaws weren’t a band of merrie men as much as just a band.

Now the Everyman and Playhouse’s associate director offers us his boldest and most imaginative vision yet in the last, but by golly certainly not least, production of the Everyman Rep’s inaugural season, Romeo and Juliet. Or should that really be Romeo and Julius?

Back in the 1590s when the play was first staged, Juliet would have been played by a beardless callow youth. Added to which, the debate rages on among Shakespeare scholars about the identity of the ‘Mr WH’ to whom the sonnets were dedicated, and the ‘fair youth’ to whom so many were addressed.

Bagnall has referenced these debates while bringing the storytelling bang up-to-date, where the youthful Romeo (George Caple) and Julius (Elliott Kingsley) find love and affection despite coming from rival, warring, knife-wielding gangs – the flamboyant, colourful Capulets and the dark-clothed, hoodie-wearing, tattoo-branded Montagues.

Dean Nolan (Mercutio) and Tom Kanji (Tybalt). All photographs by Gary Calton.

Visually the production-in-the-round packs a powerful punch, not simply in Molly Elizabeth Lacey Davies’ jagged set with its central heart beating up and down, and quartet of balcony gantries, but in the sheer number of bodies on stage which helps give the tale real impact – both in the fight sequences and also in an evocative mourning scene.

Most directors could only dream of having 40-odd actors to work with, but here the 14-strong Rep company is augmented with over 20 members of YEP (Young Everyman Playhouse) including two extremely good ‘principles’ in Isobel Balchin (Benvolio) and Alice Corrigan (Balthazar), who, like their professional peers, deliver their lines with liveliness and pleasing clarity.

Music supports and suffuses the action, and a chorus of voices, anchored by the trio of Pauline Daniels, Emily Hughes and Laura Dos Santos, offer both religious plainsong and musical variations on the Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen In Love.

Melanie La Barrie plays the Nurse

The moment Romeo and Julius catch sight of each other for the first time is so beautiful and delicate you almost forget to breathe, whereas the stage combat is vigorous in a professional wrestling sort of way – giving a kilt-wearing, Mohican-sporting Nolan the chance for some frighteningly athletic leaping and tumbling.

The season has certainly ended on a high note.

But of course, it’s not quite the end. From next week, all five shows go in to an ambitious three-week full rep cycle. So if you’ve missed any productions over the past four months, there’s still a chance to judge for yourself.

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