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Fringe Online 2020

Low Down

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, Designer Simon Daw, Composer Nigel Hess, Choreographer Sian Williams, Musical Director being William Lyons, Musicians Arngeir Hauksson, Amy Kelly, Sharon Lindo, William Lyons, Nicholas Perry. Fight Director William Ranson, Text Work Giles Block, Movement Work Glynn MacDonald, Voice and Dialect Jan haydn Rowles, Production manager Paul Russell, Theatre Technical Paul Williams, Wardrobe Hannah Lobelson, Wigs Hair and make-up Pam Humpage, Louise Ricci, Assistant to stage Director Fiona Moorhead, Props Bella Lagnado.

Filmed by Opus Arte Producer Han Patri, Director Kriss Russman, Camera Supervisor Philip Chavannes, Sound Supervisor Any Rose, Vision mix Sonia Lovett, Video Editors Stephen Eveleigh, Sean Woollgar, Colourist Ross Copeland. Til May 3rd.


More than any theatre the Globe’s mapped out streaming for the long-term: twelve whole weeks of six plays. For the second, Will Tosh in an introductory video tells us a new tale of Verona, a couple falling in love across opposite balconies during Italy’s new restrictions, immediately christened ‘the Romeo and Juliet of lockdown.’

That Shakespeare returns to the city that gave him three plays – as we now know with Measure for Measure’s original – underscores how universally he and the Globe’s initiative reaches. Oh and we don’t know there’s a balcony

This 2009 performance plays with that a bit, since the musicians’ gallery is used twice for the love scenes, too tall to scramble up, OK to slither down with a rope. Otherwise Juliet’s bedroom on our imaginary forces works and like Juliet treads on the ground: non-Romeo scenes would have been impossible otherwise.

There might be a lot of metaphorical rope in Dominic Dromgoole’s 2009 Romeo and Juliet coming in at near two-hours-fifty. That’s because it’s virtually uncut and Dromgoole’s brisk clean approach with rapid dissolves has become the norm for many subsequent productions. There’s energy, delight, detail and bustle, above all energy. It’s thrilling to see the play entire with its darting minor characters, household flavours, street walks, sportive fighting.

Designer Simon Daw’s swept his space clean, just allowing a single bed on occasion. It works perfectly, as Sian Williams’ choreography sweeps measures across this notably musical production.

It’s worth mentioning Chorus because James Lailey’s Sampson, (also Friar John and Constable), Graham Vick’s Abraham, (also Apothecary) are keen as a quarrel-point. Finest of all Fergal McElherron’s dangerously antic Gregory, clear-headed Balthazar, illiterate poor-me Peter and a quite frantically funny Potpan fly across the stage cannoning mostly into the other two providing one of the great energy-banks of this production.

After that Chorus (cut from the Folio, we’re reminded as an early example of spoiler-alert!) we’re sped heltering into the Gregory/Sampson/Abraham plot to annoy. Here we’re given the first of Fight Director William Ranson’s many parries, breathtakingly fine in the sword fights with Tybalt, and the first appearance of that much-moved Prince Escalus, Andrew Vincent, operatically a basso role, patriarchy incarnate.

And it’s music moving this production, from the get-go to (stage anyway) get-out. Composer Nigel Hess provides a medley of popular 16th century musics with madrigals closely allied to Monteverdi, closer still to drunken Thomas Weelkes. Musical Director William Lyons leads a band and that chorus trio adding Jack Farthing’s fresh-faced reflective but not foppish Benvolio to make a quartet. It counterpoints the velocity of both tragedy and Dromgoole’s direction. Any breath of breathlessness is allayed in these nocturnal eddies or daylight knees-up.

In one point the slowing-down’s baffling: the Queen Mab scene. True Philip Cumbus’ Mercutio badinages with the best, strutting disdain for mere brawlers, bitten by terminal devilment. Cumbus points Mercutio’s scorn, wit, hauteur memorably. He’s somewhere choked with melancholy as is clear at the end of his detailed, if rational flight. Acceleration’s needed there so Romeo’s stopping him with a tardy ‘peace’ after it peters out is redundant. Cumbus starts up again but we miss the drive that gallops Mercutio’s brand of dark over the brink.

Elsewhere though that speed redeems the overly comedic Nurse as Penny Layden’s delivery restores a sense she’s speaking quickly, not distractedly. True Nurse’s dilations, her deliberate witholdings are all intact, but her look of hurt and bafflement – from Mercutio’s mock-snog through to Juliet’s dismissal lets onto someone far more sympathetic. You believe in her.

Ukweli Roach’s Tybalt gives off a lean and hungry rage that’s the more deadly for seething not roaring. His voice is in his sword, but also a quick-flashing of words creates it. He seems a kinsman the Capulets look not for, tolerated as if known dangerous, possibly psychopathic. Shakespeare leaves out proof of Juliet’s fondness for him, since one thing this production never indulges in – it hasn’t time with all details present – to interpret radically. We don’t get a Benvolio overtly in love with Romeo, though Farthing’s acute sensitivity to Romeo’s plight might suggest it.

Drongoole’s inspired idea was to cast title characters as near their characters’ ages as possible. It nearly works too. Adetomiwa Edun’s admittedly 25-year-old Romeo is warm, and in this film perfectly clear too, quick, making intelligent use of parries with Mercutio and Benvolio as well as others with Tybalt. Edun owns a lithe suddenness presaging Friar Lawrence’s words about tripping; and affecting too in early despair. He’s believable in all things save perhaps in manhood-transformed grief, which resembles his premature one.

Ellie Kendrick’s not the only member of the cast to be known now as a playwright as well as actor. Here she was just short of 19 and if she looks as if still at school, she was. Not perhaps since Olivia Hussey have we seen as fresh and convincingly youthful a Juliet as this. Kendrick owns a seriousness that should be there in Juliet, often missed. Kendrick apprehends panic with a switchback ferocity – for instance in the sleeping draught’s dizzying possibilities – that touches brilliance. She carries too that nobility proper to her rank whose dismissal is the more thrilling and for original audiences, shocking.

Kendrick’s naturally warm with Layden’s Nurse and Miranda Foster’s anxiously affectionate Lady Capulet – who at least makes a sally against her husband’s harshness; and like Layden is explosive in grief, if hidebound. Kendrick’s Juliet never quite sloughs girlish seriousness for young womanhood. Her initial teen delight with Edun is infectious, even radiant but the chemistry’s fizzing in a book of love. We’re over-used to Juliet’s full-on sexual desire, troubling to square with 14 now, but 18’s a fair age to exude it.

There’s bleak earnestness though dealing with Ian Redford’s Capulet, whom Kendrick first defies then with deadly calm seems to obey. It’s one of those moments when you see how implacable Kendrick’s Juliet is in her intent.

Redford’s avuncular with Jovian bonhomie, with a Jovian underside. Redford muses convincingly at having last danced 30 years ago, then deals Tybalt a slap making Tybalt’s suffrance clear. Capulet doesn’t cow his wife – wife-abuse in the recent RSC production was revelatiory. Drongoole establishes there’s no need for heavy-handed fathers when patriarchy’s all around.

Kendrick too makes Tom Stuart’s keenly-observed Paris seem more an abuser than usual. Stuart ensures Paris almost seems to deserve his fate. Preening on ‘Venus smiles not in a house of tears’ is horribly well done, as is his narcissism. Stuart possesses the hauteur of Paris’ kinship with the Prince like Mercutio, but differently: obliviousness informs his crass dealings with Juliet and Kendrick makes the expensive Paris look cheap.

Michael O’Hagan’s Montague contrasts with Redford, a quieter dignity apter for reconciliation, if stiff with grief – Holly Atkins’ lamentation as Lady Montague for her son’s banishment makes her dangerously distracted and you wonder if she’s foredone herself.

Rawiri Paratene’s Friar Lawrence carries the grain of belief. Quick, never bustling, dignified but throwing it off in his panic at the end, reminds us there’s no flinching from Lawrence being last to abandon Juliet. There’s comic patness too in his rationalisations: Romeo’s banished wail or looking down at a freshly-dead husband.

Where Citizens Lucy Conway, Jason Carter, Rhodafori Attah, Steve Raine complete the bustle of this three-hour traffic you get a strong whiff of community, frayed tempers, tinderbox affrays waiting on midday heat. You’ll probably never get as complete a Romeo and Juliet as this; it’s one reason to cherish this clean-driven clear-headed everything-but-the-girl-and-boy production. But Edun and Kendrick are a delight, just not absolutely in each other. They seem a distinctly attracted pair made keen through – well lockdown.

11 years on you wonder at a different Tinder being more what this couple might look at and dream on. It’s as if they’re still excited, signalling across two balconies in Verona.