The great thing about theatre pubs is the sheer imagination that goes into every production. They aren't very big, or have a lot of money to put on major productions, so each one has to step up the creativity to engage the audience, and this particular production of Romeo and Juliet at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in London's Islington does a good job.
With limited resources, director Bryony Thompson does a commendable job in a stripped down, sub-two-hour version of Romeo and Juliet. Apart from the two leads, each actor plays several parts, and the entire ensemble only numbers seven. In cutting the play, many lines get shoehorned onto other characters. For example both Romeo and Juliet lose a parent, and minor family members on both sides are cut.
Juliet is played excellently by Carla Kingham, who seems a lot younger than other productions, much nearer the text as it was written. Kingham clearly understands how sheltered and protected Juliet is, and she subtly demonstrates that her yearning for freedom is more about rebellion than a real desire to escape. In essence, she gets the line between feisty and vulnerable just right.
Ben Ireland's Romeo at first feels too intense and romantic to be taken seriously, but improves in the second half as the plot heats up. He falls for Juliet easily, even after killing Tybalt, and being exiled he still swoons around like Bryon, contemplating his love for Juliet above all else, ignoring the fact he has lost his friend and murdered a man in one night.
Apart from the acting, the production is sensual and atmospheric. The music is essential to this production, with a loud score accompanying all the major scenes. One technical issue is that at points the music is perhaps too domineering and too loud. Jason Eddy, who acts as chorus and as the Friar is frequently found in the middle of the performance space acting as a DJ and as musician, with actors performing around him.
This embrace of modernity is very welcomed, seemingly influenced by the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film, however it contrasts with the costumes and scenery, which are very traditional. The men have flowing, open shirts, and the women appear in old looking knitwear. This juxtaposiiton works well, with elements of the old and new contrasting. Thompson also acts as producer and costume designer. Thompson's lighting is too dim at points, which adds to the intensity as all attention is focused on the actors, yet some of the cast seem put off by this.
A well-staged production, this take shows that Romeo and Juliet can be done with imagination and a new perspective, even if resources are scarce.