Almeida Theatre has struck gold once again. “Romeo and Juliet” is a triumph – a masterclass in Shakespeare. Frecknall’s directorial prowess shines through in every aspect of the performance, from the minimalist staging to the captivating choreography (my favourite choreography in a show this year so far!). The stellar cast, led by the sensational Isis Hainsworth and Toheeb Jimoh, brings the iconic characters to life with depth and authenticity.
Innovative, fresh, and thrilling are the words that come to mind when describing the Almeida Theatre’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet.” Directed by Rebecca Frecknall, known for her Olivier Award-winning revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” this production takes the classic tale we all know and infuses it with a light and fresh energy that captivates from start to finish. It stays away from the crazy colourful, busy staging like from a Buz Luhrmann movie – instead, it focuses on creating a minimalist setting, that highlights the talents of the young leads. And it managed to create one of the most memorable last scene settings I’ve seen this year – the candlelit, quiet stage with terrified Juliet in the centre, was perfection.
Sword Fights and Dance: Artful Choreography that Transcends Boundaries
The interconnected scenes of the production bring a newfound dynamism to this well-known story. Scenes are not merely split but intertwined, seamlessly flowing from one to another like a river, transporting the audience through time and space. The actors remain on stage for most of the time, frozen, waiting for their moment, adding an intriguing layer of anticipation to the performance. It is within these moments that unexpected encounters occur, like Juliet standing between Romeo and Tybalt during their deadly duel, heightening the tension and bringing a fresh perspective to pivotal scenes.
The choreography and stage movement in “Romeo and Juliet” is surprisingly modern and dance-focused. The fights between the Montagues and the Capulets are elevated to a piece of art, seamlessly blending sword fighting and dance. It is a visual feast for the eyes, capturing the raw emotions and physicality of the conflicts with breathtaking precision. It’s a kind of experience that will definitely stay with me for long – with the detail-oriented movement, it could have easily been staged on the stage of Sadler’s Wells as well.
Romeo and Juliet: Captivating Performances
Isis Hainsworth, known to me for her role as a shy and quiet heroine in “Metal Lords,” surprises and astounds as Juliet. Her portrayal is sassy, loud, and deeply emotions-driven, igniting the stage with her presence. Hainsworth’s delivery of Juliet’s two monologues, one before drinking the poison and another after seeing Romeo’s lifeless body, is nothing short of extraordinary. The combination of candlelight, pin-drop silence from the audience, and Hainsworth’s magnetic performance creates an unforgettable experience that resonates to the core.
Toheeb Jimoh takes on the role of Romeo, embodying a more mature and peaceful man, yet maintaining an undeniable playboy charm. His infatuation towards Rosalind is as believable as his love for Juliet, painting him as a constant thrill-seeker. Jimoh’s magnetic presence and undeniable chemistry with Hainsworth elevate the intensity and passion of their star-crossed romance.
Captivating Music and Flawless Lighting: A Dynamic Duo
Music plays a vital role in this reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet.” The classic themes are rediscovered and presented in a way that makes them sound fresh and invigorating. The combination of familiar melodies and new arrangements adds another layer of emotional depth to the production, enhancing the audience’s connection to the characters and their plights.
With a bare stage set, the lights take centre stage, and the lighting designer deserves special recognition for their exceptional work. From the gradual dimming of lights during monologues to match the actors’ pacing, to the masterful use of shadows as a backdrop for the newly-wedded couple’s morning, every lighting choice is a stroke of perfection. The subtle movement in the back of the stage, shifting the lights to shine directly on Juliet, creates a dynamic visual impact that enhances the storytelling.
About the show
Almeida Theatre, Tue 6 Jun – Sat 29 Jul 2023
Running Time Approx. 2 hours, no interval