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BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET, Crucible, Sheffield, September 23 2015

Given that it is so well known, and well studied, it is perhaps surprising that Romeo and Juliet doesn't receive anywhere near the level of attention in professional theatre that, say, Macbeth, Hamlet or Othello do. I don't know whether this is because of the high-profile film adaptations, or of the fact that the two central characters are so young, and thus don't attract big-name actors in the same way, but it is nice to see a major professional production of the play - this is the first time in over 20 years that it has graced the stage of the Sheffield Crucible.

Directed by Jonathan Humphreys, with design by Hannah Clark, the setting of this Verona is rough and ready, all corrugated iron, metal and starkness. It is set in a slightly undetermined recent era (I thought 1970s, but some costumes suggested 1960s, 1980s or even this century), and the families are not the pompous, overbearing, well-to-do caricatures are so many adaptations, but much lower class and more vicious. In particular, Capulet (Michael Hodgson) is a man worn down by the stresses of his status, desperate to see Juliet wedded in order to improve his situation.

The couple themselves are played by Freddie Fox and Morfydd Clark. Fox brings out the charm and energy of Romeo with ease, whilst Clark brings an incredibly heartfelt take on Juliet. Juliet is a character it is quite difficult to get right: she can often be read as too sappy and infatuated, or too impetuous and childish. Here, Clark manages to bring both of those sides of the character out, whilst not parodying her and also emphasising the genuine emotion she feels. Juliet is young and naive, yet she is truly swept up in her relationship and overwhelmed by her feelings in a way that we can recognise and empathise with, rather than see as pure foolishness.

Rachel Lumberg, a favourite of Sheffield Theatres, steals the show as Nurse, bringing out the feistiness, humour and care of the role and playing it for all its worth. However, it is a strong cast, with the smaller roles emphasising both the light and dark of the script, with the comedy and the violence ramped up at appropriate times. Given that many performers are young and some not long out of drama school (Charlie Bates, a sympathetic friar, is in her first professional role here), the production has a real energy and exuberance about it that makes the running time feel much shorter than it is.

The risks taken in this production are small. Although the setting, costumes and movement have a freshness to them, they don't entirely reinvent the story. This is not in any way a bad thing, however, and the production treats Romeo and Juliet very sympathetically - they are not just symbols of a feud gone wrong, or youthful infatuation, they feel here like rounded and interesting characters in their own rights.

This is a strong production, well worth seeing. Even if you feel very familiar with the story, it is always a pleasure to see it performed onstage - and that pleasure doesn't always come around very often, so catch it while you can.

Romeo and Juliet is at the Crucible, Sheffield until October 17.

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From This Author Ruth Deller