Once again the season at the Globe begins, this time with one of the most performed of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. An obvious choice under this season’s theme, "Young Hearts," Dominic Dromgoole directs this traditional production of Romeo and Juliet as part of his fourth season as the Globe’s Artistic Director.
One of the most commented-upon aspects of Dromgoole’s directorial approach is the youthfulness of the cast. For once, Juliet (Ellie Kendrick) looks refreshingly as though she may just be as young as not yet fourteen. The Friar (Rawiri Paratene) and Nurse (Penny Layden) are also much younger than they are normally portrayed, the cumulative effect creating the potential for enormous energy and vibrancy on stage.
Although this is Kendrick’s theatrical debut, she has made a name for herself in recent times—in the UK at least—through her portrayal of Anne Frank in the BBC’s The Diary of Anne Frank. Having thoroughly enjoyed the television series, I was eager to see her as Juliet, but I was unfortunately met with disappointment. The eighteen year old actress, who performs in this role as part of her gap year before going to read English Literature at Cambridge this September, looks the perfect part: youthful and innocent, and restrained by the propriety of her rich, Italian family. I eagerly waited to see her passion and excitement in love unfold, but sadly it never really happened. Kendrick’s restraint and her preoccupation with the inflections of the text consequently mean that we never really believe in the idea that she is swept up in any sort of amorous feelings for Romeo.
Romeo (Adetomiwa Edun) thankfully shows much more youthful admiration and living delight in Juliet. Yet because of the continued emphasis on the couple’s innocence, even when they are together on stage, we have no sense of any chemistry between them.
That painfully said, there is much to commend in this production. Directors are often fearful of presenting a straight, traditional Romeo and Juliet. Because it is performed so frequently, they feel the need to inflict some directorial spin on the events. In a Q&A session with the director and some of the actors after the show, Dromgoole explained, “the joy of directing in the Globe is you can just do the play. You don’t need to do anything with it; you just do the play and let the words speak for themselves.”
This is instantly and visibly noticeable as you enter the space, designed by Simon Daw. For the first time in years, there is no stage protruding at bizarre angles into the groudlings’ space. The joy in Romeo and Juliet—and thankfully for Dromgoole—is the beauty of the text itself. The words have everything, from the melting love poetry of the lovers to the sprightly and endearing wit of Mercutio. The words are very much the focus, and Dromgoole ensures they shine through and work their own magic. And while there is a lack of any sort of passion between the lovers, we discover some other hidden treasures in the meantime. The ever-jovial Philip Cumbus portrays a captivating Mercutio, mixing the golden material with fantastic comic timing. Similarly, minor roles such as Peter (one of the many roles played by Fergal McElherron) become something of a delight, adored by the audience and bawdily entertaining. Credit must also go to Iain Redford for his utterly commanding performance as Capulet; so powerful was his portrayal, the audience was compelled into spontaneous applause after one particularly rousing speech.
This in itself makes it a show worth seeing, although I find it hard to disguise my disappointment in the lack of passion between these two youths. This production does offer some refreshingly insightful hilarity and theatrical potential in the more minor roles. It also easily matches the Globe’s impressive standards with its Renaissance costume design (Simon Daw), persuasive performances (on the minor whole), and sublime music sung by four of the actors and composed by the inimitable Nigel Hess. This all combines to create a worthwhile evening out, assuming your focal point in Romeo and Juliet is not Romeo and Juliet.