A white wench’s black eye
We were at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet at The Lowry in Salford. Directed by Neil Bartlett and designed by Kandis Cook, the play is set in the violent, Catholic world of 1940s Italy. It looks rather like Coppola’s Godfather trilogy and sounds wonderful, the actors being supported by the blowsy music of an Italian fiesta band playing live on stage.
David Dawson and Anneika Rose take the lead roles, and for each of them it is their debut production for the RSC. Dawson recently played Smike in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, for which he received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Newcomer in a Play. Twenty-two-year-old Glaswegian actress, Rose, inherited the part of Juliet for which she was acting as understudy when the original actress was taken ill. She comes to the role of Juliet after graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in July.
There is little in the way of scenery or props; a huge brick wall at the rear of the stage; a bed, of course, a ladder, some flick-knives, chairs and letters, but nothing the audience has to wait for or that might slow down the delivery.
The production is concerned to emphasise the brutality of the world these star-crossed lovers inhabit, its loveless conformity and insistence on patriarchal control. In Shakespeare’s time as well as in our own girls were rewarded for being what they were expected to be and boys for overstepping the mark.
The couple are faced with the cruelty and intolerance of their parents and weave their way towards a tragic death even though everyone around them seems to act for what they believe is their best interest.
The supporting cast here is strong, and the two leads relatively inexperienced. Nevertheless, Romeo and Juliet is a play that stands or falls on the input of the two lovers, and in this production, they put so much energy and dedication into their parts, that for me and the party I was with, the production never faltered. Dawson, as Romeo, was a revelation, being for the most part suitably besotted and the perfect image of a youth who can’t wait to get his hands on this certain girl.
And Anneika Rose, as that certain girl, was just fresh-faced enough, and showed enough pluck to lead him by the nose whenever he faltered, to stand up against the injustices of her parents, and give the audience a real treat with a practically blank CV to recommend her.
Alas poor Romeo! he is already dead; stabbed with a
white wench’s black eye; shot through the ear with a
love-song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the
blind bow-boy’s butt-shaft:
And outstanding, apart from the leads, are Owain Arthur as Peter, and Julie Legrand as the Nurse, both of them with a practised handle on comedy which oils the wheels and keeps the play rolling along.