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BWW Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Southwark Playhouse

A bold concept's potential is not fully realised in too hasty an execution

BWW Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Southwark Playhouse With the Elephant and Castle round the corner, we know we're in South London and, once you see and hear the actors, we're know equally well we're in a related place - the old Sarf Larnden sliding away as gentrification grips. It's Montague House and Capulet Towers bickering on the streets of Brixton, the feud in full flow, our doomed star-crossed couple about to meet - an SE1 Side Story, if you will.

A montage accompanied by a bit of Madness to prelude the madness locates us in 1981, The Specials' Ghost Town topping the charts as riots spring up in response to the recession, aggressive Stop and Search policies and a government leaving youth on the shelf. It's a perfect setting for Shakey's enduring romance.

Director, Nicky Allpress, doesn't quite retain the courage of their convictions and a bravura dance sequence (2 Tone Records should be proud) accompanied by Amy Loughton's sensational live saxophone for the Capulet Ball, gives way to more generic scenes, before video returns for the denouement. Such strong visual and musical motifs really need to be carried through once we've been tempted.

The cast of six work very hard, taking multiple roles and never letting the energy drop in this all-through 100 minutes version, created as part of Southwark Playhouse's Shakespeare for Schools project, which will see 2000 local kids see the production free of charge in matinees - they'll like the occasional sweary bits for sure.

Whether they will like the more traditional Shakespearean bits is more open to question. Performed on a thrust stage, actors are quite often facing away from at least part of the audience and, inexplicably, too often facing the video wall and, buzzing with teenage nerves and hormonal overload, so never still. That's one obstacle to hearing the text, but another is the shouting used by most of the characters to convert heightened emotion - the soap opera equation of the louder the voice the stronger the feelings, does not work in a space in which no actor is more than a few feet from the audience.

That hampers Samuel Tracy and Laura Lake Adebisi as our handsome, doomed lovers because they also speak many of the lines too quickly (all the cast do - the verse is whisked away with the haste) so it's difficult to invest fully in their whirlwind romance. They need time to breathe and we need time to absorb both the passions they excite in each other and the stakes with which they are gambling. Shakespeare gives us scenes that are already on fast forward, so probably need to be slowed down rather than sped up.

There's comic relief from Loughton, who puts down her saxophone to give us a brisk and efficient Nurse doubling as a well dodgy Apothecary and Joey Ellis who channels a little Charlie Hawtrey for his camp Paris. Yinka Awoni, giving full rein to his Jamaican accent, and Fiona Skinner no-nonsensing it as Capulet, round out the cast.

As was the case for the old C90 cassette tape that provides a backdrop in the second half, the temptation to press the FF button should always be resisted, because the jumping one step beyond to reach the end of the album means you miss out on the full artistic vision, slower moments inaudible and lost. One can admire the boldness of this production's vision while longing for a different execution.

Romeo & Juliet is at Southwark Playhouse until 5 February

Photo Tom Chaplin

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