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Romeo and Juliet review @ The Crescent Theatre

romeoThe CrescentIf there is one problem with a staging of Romeo and Juliet is how do you escape the major Hollywood film productions of the play and reinvent it to pander the majority of the audience and equally shock them too.  With such a broad task at hands it’s safe to say that any production will succeed in some areas than others.

Kate Owen’s (the productions director) decision to reinvent the play through setting it in the late 1980’s/ 1990’s period allowed a different type of hedonism to be displayed on the stage here. Lady Capulet’s slow sauntering and somewhat aloof attitude towards Juliet and Lord Capulet struck out in the production, alongside her casual use of cocaine throughout most scenes she shared with her daughter.  The eclectic music choices and stage costumes encapsulated the age of social distress in the 1980’s which Owen’s make comparisons to between Montague’s and Capulet’s’ feud.

Taken further Andrew Elkington’s Romeo was a hybrid mix of a young Leonardo Dicaprio’s emotional rawness and the extravagance of a young George Michael. At times playing the typical archetypal young lover, who is rash and often emotionally open, but with an added elegance and sophistication. The George Michael influence on his character went further than the typical 1980’s hair style and tight jeans, and allowed vigour in his performance carrying him through some of the more turbulent scenes in the production.

And not to forget Juliet played by Hannah Kelly who seized the stage in many of the scenes often outshining both Romeo and the nurse with her emotional ferocity which she carefully maintained beneath a thin layer of her self control. Owen’s played on the naivety of Juliet especially earlier on the production with her often comical discussions with her nurse. But as the play progressed we see Juliet blossom into a woman who decides to take control of her fate leading to a tragic end.

 But the star of the show was Mercutio played by James David Knapp who captured our attentions from his first scene to his last. His witty innuendos entwined with his seriousness makes for a complex and enjoyable character to watch being performed. Owen’s clever deconstruction of Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech was particularly interesting. Through a backdrop projection of images of soldiers fighting in the Falkland’s war, Mercutio recites his Queen Mab dream, adding an extra layer to his emotional and mental eccentricities creating a disturbed picture of his condition. These mental eccentricities of Mercutio are what at times drives the production away from a typical reading of the play into a more exciting experience for the audience.

Romeo and Juliet is the most accessible Shakespeare play for the masses due to our timeless fixations on everlasting love and dying to save that. With this in mind it’s not hard to see why the theatres are always packed to see this play around the country.  It remains relevant for all ages everywhere and in the process it’ll still illicit a few pained sobs and tears at the tragic end even to this day. 

By Shantok Jetha 

Road @ the Crescent Theatre

Jim Cartwright’s Road is regarded as a cult classic. First performed at the notorious and politically subversive Royal Court Theatre in 1986; it is an angrier, edgier, homage to the angry young men plays of the 1950’s, such as John Osborn’s Look Back in Anger, complete with the defining class satire and explicit, shocking content. In the 1980’s it did for theatre what John Cooper Clarke did for performance poetry, in that Cartwright made the form appeal as being refreshingly punk – a vital part of fringe culture, as opposed to being reserved for a social elite as was, and perhaps sadly still is, the attitude of many towards theatre.

It is fitting that Road be restaged here in Birmingham during a time of grim austerity under recession and rising unemployment. The stories of working class characters on a derelict estate appear as relevant as ever, and as a huge fan of the source material I was anxiously anticipating a night of unrelenting venal and crass assaults that ought to challenge any audience of unsuspecting patrons.

On entering the Crescent’s auditorium it was a shock to discover that Stage2 is an all-youth troupe! It was a cast of school kids performing a play rife with sexually explicit scenes and filthy language, not to mention an unrelentingly bleak tone. There is no moment of redemption or reconciliation at any point; Road starts depressing and ends with the characters either miserably despondent or (spoiler alert) dead. Could this be a diluted version of the source material, perhaps a cleaner, twee version? Two minutes in, however, and it became apparent that such apprehensions were thankfully, though terrifyingly, unfounded.

The young actors were genuinely stunning. The nuances of emotion and self-awareness required for such complex characters always felt natural and effortless. For example, Sam Hotchin put in a brilliant turn as the boorish Scullery, the linchpin narrator character guiding the audience through the vignettes in each house along the road. Hotchin was an intimidating presence; impulsively aggressive, morose or playful, this Scullery was a welcoming host who could snap at any moment. Though beneath the crass repartee, he inscribed his Scullery with a certain world-weariness that is only implied in Cartwright’s script with the pessimistic line ‘just remember folks, if God did make them little green apples, he also made snot.’

Other highlights included George Hannigan and Anna Gilmore as a young couple on an existential hunger strike. Both of their monologues were particularly affecting, especially given their initial light-hearted exchange. Indeed the playing off of hilarious pathos with the tougher scenes had the effect of making the heavier moments feel even more sincere and earned throughout; something largely in debt to the strength of the young actors’ performances.

A word must also be said for the production. Stage2 really made the most of the Crescent theatre auditorium. There was a two-story scaffold construction in the centre stage that divided into six subsections, each representing a house along the road. Framed by dustbins and litter, the cast were scattered all around the theatre. They were in the isles, on overhead galleries, as well as climbing the walls and us the audience were effectively cornered by witty, feral teenagers playing drunk and shouting at each other. Nevertheless, the chaos of it was never arbitrarily out to shock, but rather to engage and tune the audience into the vernacular of Road.

The chanting scene in the denouement of the last act ended the production with the entire cast and chorus surrounding the audience and screaming ‘Somehow, a somehow might escape!’ It was oppressive and chilling in an unexpectedly Lord of the Flies kind of way.

The exuberance of the performances and the uncompromising production of a challenging play had the culminating weight of both uplifting and exhausting the audience, as they left seeming somewhat shell-shocked. It was a truly immersive evening of theatre; unpretentious, funny, sad, and brilliantly played.

Words by James Grady

Lucinda Hawksley: celebrating 200 years of Charles Dickens

The 7th of February this year marked the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth and a multitude of events will be going on all year to celebrate one of the most famous British authors. This anniversary was marked by Lucinda Hawksley, great, great, great granddaughter of the man in question, giving a talk in the National Portrait Gallery, London, on his family and social life two days later. Since then, Hawksley has been touring the country giving the same presentation to Dickens enthusiasts everywhere; on Sunday, she came to Birmingham’s Modern Art Gallery the Waterhall.

As a public speaker and lecturer on Dickens as well as 19th century literature, art and culture, Hawksley was well suited to presenting an in-depth talk. Focusing on the lesser known facts, Hawksley took her audience through Dickens’s life, starting with his parents and the debtor’s disgrace faced by his father, and ending with his humble tombstone. She emphasised the importance of certain figures in regards to his fame, such as George Hogarth, a journalist who first published Dickens’s work Sketches, under the pseudonym ‘Boz’, in the Evening Chronicle. Moreover, Hawksley drew attention to Dickens’s social impact on 19th century culture and his activist writings campaigning for reform. Indeed, she revealed his dramatic impact on the poor quality of the Yorkshire schools where bad children were sent to board. Upon hearing of two boys who were blinded by the awful conditions, Dickens wrote Nicholas Nickleby, which highlighted these issues and within two years all of these Yorkshire schools were shut down. These nuggets of information lent further authority to her argument and showed the audience how Dickens’ works were thoroughly important, focused on topical issues of the time. The talk was perfectly balanced between being in-depth enough to entertain any scholar of Dickens, and being accessible to those who have had no engagement with the texts; it was a brilliant preview to her book Charles Dickens written for the bicentenary.

This event is only one of many going on around Birmingham about the celebrated author, but with Hawksley’s extensive knowledge matched with her family ties it was a terrific introduction. She also referred to many important events occurring this year in regards to his anniversary. Hawksley disclosed that although Dickens stated in his will that he wanted no memorial in England, two statues are set to be erected this year, one in Portsmouth where he grew up, and one in Southwark, London to honour this influential figure. Moreover, it was revealed that the Royal Mail is set to produce Dickensian stamps which will be released in June, two of which are available for preview now. Hawksley provided a fantastic insight into why Dickens has become the icon he has today, and we she should look beyond the books to see the influence he had on his society.

For more Charles Dickens events, see the exhibition currently on display in Birmingham Univeristy’s Muirhead Tower Atrium.
Also keep an eye out for the up and coming production of Great Expectations @ the Crescent Theatre.

Words by Eleanor Campbell