London based Box Clever Theatre present their unique and energetic interpretation of one of Shakespeare's most loved texts in the beautiful performance space at Oldham Library. The company, which have recently celebrated their 20th birthday, generally perform this piece in schools for GCSE level students, so had their work cut out today to make it relevant for a mixed audience of school children, OAPs, and a few somewhere in the middle! It is somewhat difficult to review what is essentially a TIE piece for a public audience, but I will try to give as fair a review as possible.
The set is simple, but effective. A pyramid of rostra take centre stage, which the cast use to great effect ‐ leaping over and under effortlessly. The audience is in the round, which I would imagine could be problematic in schools, but works wonderfully with a small crowd in this space. The traditional text is intertwined with modern and 'street' language which is obviously meant to appeal to school‐age audience. However for me it didn't work all of the time.
Cory Stuckey and Evie Tyler play the title characters perfectly. Tyler is a feisty Juliet, while Stuckey is wonderful at portraying a smooth, cheeky, confident young guy. The pair have a fantastic relationship on stage, and are utterly believable. The final scene in particular was just beautiful, a very emotional but not overplayed performance which gave me Goosebumps.
The character I had an issue with was the narrator, played by Maria Simmonds. A tricky part to play for sure, as it jumped between narration, playing other characters and even voicing the audience's thoughts at time, and Simmonds was clearly confident in her role. However, even though I have performed in and watched many versions of Romeo and Juliet, and know the story very well, there were parts where I was very confused about what was going on.
This mainly comes down to the language used. Maybe I'm just not 'down with the kids' any more, but it is really something when Shakespearean verse is much easier to understand than 'modern' language is. It is very evident that the company is from London, as a lot of the lingo is lost a bit on Northern audiences, and is even quite intimidating at times.
The play as is performed to adult audiences is not without its problems. The sound levels were dodgy at times, the sound cues from the actors sometimes clumsy, and some of the dancing was awkward and even inappropriate. Nevertheless, as a piece of educational theatre I can see how it would appeal to the youth of today, and through their energetic performance, I think they've done their job in making Shakespeare more accessible for all.
Reviewed on: 10th March 2016
Reviewed by: Poppy Stewart