Edinburgh Fringe 2010
A powerful production of Romeo and Juliet for our times. Kidbrooke reset Romeo and Juliet on the Verona Estate in south east London to come up with a depiction of modern day youth and the futility of knife crime. A well acted and directed production by a highly talented young cast.
Disaffected youth, knife crime, gang violence, stabbings and social disorder. Verona 1595 or Verona Estate, south east London? In this powerful production of Romeo and Juliet, Kidbrooke School in association with Greenwich Theatre bring Romeo and Juliet bang up to date with a pertinent message for our times.
Adapting Romeo and Juliet to a setting in south east London shifts the emphasis from being a play about young love to one that examines the futility of gang warfare and knife crime. Kidbrookes’s production certainly packs a powerful punch about the futility of lives needlessly cut short too young.
It starts with violence, random enjoyed violence. Hoodies circle on BMXs, kids are picked out and given a going over for no apparent reason other than that they’re there. Rival ‘crews’ cruise the streets aimlessly looking for trouble. A wall becomes a tribute wall hung with flowers, scrawled cards and a teddy bear. The backdrops are all greyness, barbed wire and railings. Symbols of today introduce a classic given a thorough working over and shift of emphasis to highlight concerns that have a very modern resonance.
The Capulet’s party is a riotous assembly of hi-energy hip hop music with witty choreography. The balcony scene is played with phone text and speech, perhaps a little too much for laughs. The first meeting with the friar takes place in a community gardening scheme.
It’s a young cast, one that is the right age for Romeo and Juliet, making it all the more affecting. It shows love as the special province of the young with the particular burgeoning intensity that comes with first love, that feeling that nothing but nothing is so important or will ever be so important again: a dangerous and potent brew. In a world of swaggering masculinity where ‘respect’ is a requirement, love becomes a dangerous commodity and one that leads to violence and revenge.
There are some fine performances. Michael Omo-Bare is a strong and sympathetic Romeo. Billy Beswick as the nurse and Jacob Beswick as Peter (as well as doubling up in several other parts) make a wonderful comic couple, both have a great sense of comic timing and play well off one another. The whole cast is to be congratulated on a fine company performance where they work well together with generosity and spirit.
The young cast speak Shakespeare as if it’s modern day English, as if it’s easy to understand, and so it is as they speak it. They treat Shakepeare with respect but not with deference, and in doing so, speak Shakespeare better than the declamations of many professional actors.
Lucy Cuthbertson deserves special mention for taut direction which brings all the elements together into an evocative and memorable production. Certainly, one I won’t forget in a hurry – I left the theatre with wet eyes and after my second show of the day thinking back on this was moved to tears again.
This is not a flawless production: there is an unnecessary extra scene after Juliet has taken her pill, the pictures on the backwall are perhaps too didactic but overall the high energy, interpretation and professionalism make this one that’s well worth seeing – and one which is very hard to believe is a school production. Highly recommended.