The recent spats at the Globe, between the now outgoing Artistic Director Emma Rice and The Powers That Be, have become uncomfortably public of late; they now seem to have spilled onto the stage, and regrettably, made a right mess. The question of sound effects, and sound equipment, was a bone of contention: the result is that Romeo and Juliet barely gets through 15 lines at a time without throbbing universal synths, yearning solo nondescript wailing, or one-size-fits-all dance music blasting (everything blasts, all the time) through the accursed /much-maligned (choose your corner) speakers. Indeed, at the Capulet ball, the entire company go into a fully choreographed version of YMCA, sung in full by Lord Capulet for no discernible reason whatsoever, bar allowing director Daniel Kramer to nick a key idea from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: Romeo and Juliet glimpsing each other through partying crowds. There must be less painful ways to achieve it. Worse, each fight scene gets the same aforesaid piece of dance music. The stage reverberates, literally, with an anger which has nothing to do with this play, and perhaps everything to do with bruised egos behind the scenes.

The larger problem with this production, however, is the insincere treatment of the play itself; everything is brash and coarse, overacting is rife, and delivery is loud, shouty and often faux hip-hop: the effect is patronising and alienating, not accessible as presumably intended, provoking misplaced laughs from a giggly tourist audience. Whenever anyone doesn’t seem to understand their lines, Kramer resorts to meaningless erotic bouncing to distract us. Even the fight scenes get dancers – presumably, in case we get bored – and although the programme lauds the fetishisation of violence, the fight choreography wouldn’t convince a tranquilised toddler, as Tybalt points a gun and says “Bang!” at Mercutio. Kramer’s vision of Romeo and Juliet, like his doubtful Tristan und Isolde in 2016, is more vague associative muddle than pioneering synthesis: a loud, incoherent Romeo and Juliet for the emotionally numb ADHD generation. It’s thoroughly disappointing, entirely unmoving, and at times actual agony to witness.

Warheads hang overhead, everyone wears black and revels in facepaint located somewhere between clown makeup and A Clockwork Orange, the Prince is a Big Brother voiceover: all derivative clichés. You can’t tell the difference between Montagues and Capulets unless you know the play really well; if you do, you can play the confetti game. Kramer has decided to reapportion some lines, and splice scenes together: Shakespeare’s script is now confetti. So, Romeo gets the Prince’s final condemnatory speech at the end, which he declaims while executing all the parents, but before he dies. The wedding is spliced into the fight with Tybalt; Tybalt’s death is spliced into Juliet’s waiting soliloquy. This wouldn’t be so bad if it added tension, or illuminated any theme; but it doesn’t. It merely mauls and maims Shakespeare’s flow of ideas.

A very few actors salvage reasonable performances from Kramer’s car crash: Blythe Duff is a genuinely believable and affecting Nurse; Golda Rosheuvel makes a nice Mercutio, with beautiful diction; Kirsty Bushell’s Juliet is appealingly vulnerable in the main, though shrill at times, and not possibly 14. Biggest disasters are the Capulets: Martina Laird just plain irritating as an exceptionally gross, incoherent Lady Capulet, Gareth Snook permanently shouting as Lord Capulet, with the result that we care for neither of them (and mainly just want them off stage fast).

Until 9 July 2017

Box office: +44 (0)20 7902 1400

Rating: one 1 Meece Rating


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