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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Romeo and Juliet

Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man. Mercutio.

Jonjo O'Neill as Mercutio

In the original story, the lovers’ affair lasted for several months. But Shakespeare compressed the plot into a period of less than four days. The action opens on Sunday morning and ends at dawn on the following Thursday. Everything happens in a flash, the action takes place in an incandescent moment. On her balcony, the fourteen-year-old Juliet (Mariah Gale) tries to explain:

It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say ‘It lightens.’

We were at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet, directed by Rupert Goold.

A really excellent production in which the love and affection between the two principles (especially Sam Troughton’s Romeo) is never in doubt. And although they are progressively marginalized and isolated by the actions of their parents and elders, it is always obvious that the play is theirs, an anthem for doomed youth.

Mariah Gale plays Juliet as a sulking adolescent, gradually adding gravitas as the events of the play unfold.

Both leads are amply supported by the presence of Noma Dumezweni in her role as Juliet’s nurse. I’ve never seen this part done better.

But the thunder of the performance is stolen by Jonjo O’Neill as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. After he is killed by Juliet’s hot-tempered cousin, Tybalt, much of the wit and pace and imagination of the play is lost. But don’t let this put you off, the production is worth seeing for the part of Mercutio alone.

During the eighteenth century Shakespeare’s play was ‘improved’ by the addition of extra dialogue. A new scene was incorporated in which Juliet wakes from her trance before Romeo has begun to feel the effects of his own poison. They could therefore converse and take their eternal farewell. Thus was the play dragged into the mire of sentiment for over a hundred years.

But although this production is not devoid of laughs, it steers well clear of sentiment, and allows us to leave the theatre with a real feeling for the tragedy of the two lovers.

3 Responses to “Romeo and Juliet”

  1. Leon says:

    I taught R & J a lot in schools, mainly becuase there’s a really accessible, modern film version, a scrap at the start and readily available resources.

    I have to say it’s one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays because (as you say) it falls flat when Mercutio is killed and the rest is, well, tiring.

    How was Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, though? Done well, that’s got to be worth the entrance fee alone.

  2. john baker says:

    Oh, yes, Dick, the QM speech is excellent. And later, after the reference to Rosaline, “O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
    An open-arse and thou a poperin pear!”
    Mercutio performs a long mime in which his pornographic personality excels, with hilarious results.

  3. Wanda Steel says:

    I just can’t get enough with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet! They’re my all time favorite characters plus those words are just so inspiring!