Romeo and Juliet, Bristol Old Vic

Here’s a review of Romeo and Juliet at The Bristol Old Vic.

Theatre Review – Romeo and Juliet

Showing between Thursday 12th and Saturday 21st February 2009 @ Bristol Old Vic

The Bristol Old Vic is a wonderfully atmospheric venue that deserves to be showcasing the best of British theatre. It needs high-calibre innovative plays to secure its future success. Unfortunately, the latest production of Romeo and Juliet, for all its energy, falls short.

With a work as popular and frequently performed as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a director must make their production stand-out. This is achieved by either relying on the actors to extract contemporary resonance from the text or they must innovate and create their own vision. John Hartoch, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Schools’ director since 1981, appears to have opted for the former and therein lies the problem.

Romeo, as played by Andy Daniel, fails ultimately as a character because it is impossible to believe he is capable of experiencing the passion that is at the core of the play. There is little evidence of the melancholy or tumultuous emotions that rules Romeo. Daniel’s Romeo is a comedic character that skips about the stage even when delivering the most profound speeches. The play to some extent crumbles around this unconvincing portrayal of angst.

The opening acts are rattled through at a quick tempo, with much of the gravity of the situation lost entirely. Whereas the battles both mental and physical are suitably fast, the linguistic nuances of the emotional exchanges are not given the time to work on the audience. The first half of tonight’s performance is boisterous and bawdy rather than brooding.

The second half is better. Emerald O’Hanrahan provides a compellingly unhinged if melodramatic take on Juliet. In fact the consistently sombre tone of the second half is far better rendered by the cast. The frenetic exchanges between Friar Lawrence and Romeo at the very least provide an uncomfortable energy better suited to the play’s themes.

By far the best performance belongs to Jack Wharrier as Mercutio. He is one of the few actors who succeeds in demonstrating the wit and power of the text. Wharrier delivers the lines with aplomb and a strong physical presence. The other positive is the set, which is economical and intelligently employed.

Overall, tonight’s performance feels rushed and more than a little hollow. The conflicts that frame and drive the play are lost to the unfaltering pace. Hartoch may well have pitched for those afflicted with a short attention span, but he would have been better served allowing the power of Shakespeare’s words to settle, even for a moment, in this beautiful theatre.


You can see it published here

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Tom Spooner

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