Review: Marlowe Arts Show 2024 – Romeo and Juliet

For never was a story of more woe than this of the confusing adaptation of Juliet and her Romeo

Romeo and Juliet, the tale as old as time, with countless interpretations and artistic visions, all of which have their reasons to convey its message in a certain way. The question is, does this one?

Curtain opens, dramatic lights – two pristinely white curtains span the stage, each with five figures seated on wooden chairs, separated by the darkness of the floor. “Two households, both alike in dignity… “. Montagues and Capulets are introduced to us as colourful powder is thrown around in lieu of a sword fight, promising an interesting and lively adaptation of Shakespeare’s classical play.

The actors definitely managed to find their own way into this iconic text. Jude Ashcroft, as Prince Escalus, absolutely commanded the stage and transported us into a Shakespearean atmosphere, creating a strong start to the play. Lizzy Riley, as the Nurse, was brilliant. Without overexaggerating, she was dramatic in just the right way and brought just the right amount of modernity into the part. Her portrayal of the character was slightly comedic, while leaving enough space for emotions. She delivered the Nurse’s monologue flawlessly. A fantastic supporting character was Benvolio played by Kiko Gomersall, who showed great emotional control. The same can be said about Imogen Gray, as Lady Capulet, who took us on an emotional rollercoaster and was such a delight to see. Another standout performance was that of  Jacob Benhayoun as Mercutio. He had amazing body language and wonderfully delivered his lines. He made a great duo with Romeo (Kitty Ford) whose performance was passionate and raw, although lacking a bit of chemistry with Juliet. Sarah Mulgrew playing Juliet showed great emotions and managed herself amazingly in complicated scenes. Although sometimes I felt like she wasn’t being expressive enough, as if holding back, overall, this was a great interpretation.

Image credits: Paul Ashley

The actors were remarkable, but the rest of the production, unfortunately, worked against them. The opening scene was impressive and inspiring, but within the next couple of minutes the huge plastic white curtains and constantly moving wooden chairs lost their effectiveness. And even though the moment when the curtains fell down worked great for dramatic effect, it couldn’t quite compensate for the awkwardness of them rustling under the actors’ feet and becoming tripping hazards. Don’t get me wrong, the set was beautifully designed, and the chairs were used cleverly and creatively, but it didn’t really fit the show. In the first act it felt as if we walked in on a rehearsal and in the second as if someone accidentally put out the wrong decorations, perhaps meant for a show about war in a post apocalyptic world. The costumes, or lack there of, did not help. Seeing Juliet in sweatpants and Romeo in a hoodie really did not bring the play together. Although Lady Capulet’s blue dress was stunning and the contrasting red for Lady Montague (Alessandra Rey) created great symbolism, overall, the costumes lacked thought. The show was going for Shakespeare in a modern world, reimagining many aspects of the play, but I wish they would either go all in or not go there at all. For example, the random inclusion of a Taylor Swift song during the ball threw me off and, frankly, seemed out of place. In general, the sound design was, for a lack of a better word, weird.  Ominous music was mostly ill-suited to the mood of the play so wonderfully created by the actors. The same goes for the lights, which didn’t always change on cue and at times created an eerie and horror-like mood in moments, which needed more of a tragic atmosphere.

Image credits: Paul Ashley

Running for just over two hours, this show decided to take on a mammoth of a task and tackle a complicated iconic play in an original way. Perhaps too original? To be perfectly honest, this adaptation confused me. It was trying something but I don’t quite know what. The creative choices left me asking questions and distracted from the actors, who were doing an outstanding job portraying these intricate Shakespearean characters. Maybe I expected a bit too much from The Marlowe Society, maybe the auditorium of the Cambridge Arts Theatre seemed more suitably for a less unconventional interpretation, I am not sure. You should come and see for yourself, and I hope you will be able to find answers to the questions that to me were left unanswered and enjoy the brilliant performance by amazing actors.


Marlowe Arts Show 2024: Romeo and Juliet is showing 31st of January – 3rd of February in the Cambridge Arts Theatre. Book your tickets here.

Feature Image Credit: Paul Ashley

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