This production was wonderful, simply wonderful. Such a beautiful rendering of the classic play. The same-sex aspect is an important part of what makes this production so powerful but at the same time is fairly incidental to how and why it achieves what it does. I love Shakespeare. I love modern-dress Shakespeare with the original text. Romeo and Juliet is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays (embarrassed as I occasionally am to admit that). This is perhaps, I’ll need to think but perhaps, my favourite version of Romeo and Juliet I’ve watched.
This is yet another Fringe play I’ve attended this year featuring an unfaltering cast of talented actors with not one dud or straggler in the bunch. I’ve seen a lot of Mercutios in my time but Oveis Rezazadeh might be the best Mercutio I’ve ever seen take on the role. I don’t believe I’ve witnessed any other actor come closer to capturing that character just as Shakespeare wrote him (with the possible exception of Harold Perrineau in the Baz Luhrmann version but it’s a close one).
Becky Mills manages to nail the essential essence of Benvolio, (incidentally my favourite R+J character), while portraying the character with a unique something of her own that gives the audience a Benvolio I’ve never quite seen before. The actress and the direction (the same person I understand) gives Benvolio a place and significance in the story that they deserve but often lack in many versions. The fact that is this only done through staging and subtle acting and reacting, rather than excessive altering of the text only makes this better and more enjoyable.
The heart of this piece, naturally, is the two leads, who mutually give an incredibly beautiful and moving performance. The chemistry between Troy Chessman’s Romeo and Samuel Prentice’s Juliet is palpable and feels so authentic that it instantly has you fully believing in their love, something missing from too many a straight version of the play. My friend, Nancy, commented, and I concur, that their kiss was one of the most believable stage kisses we’ve ever witnessed. Romeo and Juliet being a same-sex couple gives certain lines and scenes new meaning, and causes them to hit harder with greater significance and clarity. Especially in the very real context of homophobia and the abandonment or abuse of many young LGBT+ people by their families. Another friend watching with me mentioned that a couple of lines made sense to them in a way they had never before in the context of Romeo and Juliet being gay. What the company have done with the production in this regard is important, very important.
While I usually loathe but recognise the necessity of abridging Shakespeare, especially for the Fringe, this adaption boasts the most skilful abridgement of Romeo and Juliet I’ve seen, which I understand to be the work of Daniel Harris. It’s a true achievement to cut two hours down to forty-five minutes but still keep all the essential emotional beats and have the pacing remain smooth and unrushed. The sublime simplicity of the staging is the final layer that goes into this intricate and well-crafted production. I do love minimalism, and minimalism and Shakespeare are always a divine and natural combination.
I have only two gripes but they’re small ones that I’m probably gonna overlook. The exact nature of the ending is a little ambiguous and could be made clearer, but that could just be on my end. I also find myself questioning whether the Apposing Rugby Teams aspect of this production is really important or adds any weight or unique context to this adaption. I think it would work just as well and be just as powerful in basic modern dress, though I will concede the rugby uniforms provide a lovely visual motif to mark out this production.
I’m putting Curious Pheasant’s Romeo and Juliet on my ‘must-see’ list for anyone at Fringe who loves Shakespeare, or even if you’re new to it. It had me the most emotional I’ve yet been this Fringe, and it’ll be hard to find another production of Romeo and Juliet that tops it.