Review: Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, RSC Open Stages Production,

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, director Rob Salmon, RSC Open Stages Production, September 11-15

Every night for the past week Ipswich Town Hall is transformed into Romeo and Juliet’s Verona, the setting for a dramatic climax to the long-standing feud between the Capulet and Montague families. Director Rob Salmon sets this version of Shakespeare’s most performed play in the modern world.

Romeo (Tom Bailey), of the house of Montague, is a street fighter but has an inner desire for something better. He falls in love with Juliet (Armonie Melville), one of the Capulets, who is moneyed and educated but desperate to escape her family and a forced marriage. Assembled in the foyer, the audience is embroiled in a street brawl between supporters of the two houses, and Tybalt (Liam Gregory) sets the tone for violent confrontation.

We follow our guide up the staircase to join the rabble rousing party of the Montagues. Romeo and his cohorts gatecrash the gathering and he sees Juliet for the first time. Tom Bailey did a grand job of conveying an inner-self, a young man striving for a way through the violence of his upbringing without betraying it. Armonie Melville gave a splendid ‘wherefore art thou Romeo’, asking why Romeo is a Montague, not where he is.

Considering that this was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages project, and most of the cast were amateurs, the acting in this innovative version was astounding. The play’s strength is the alternation between tragedy and comedy, neither of which gave this cast any trouble at all.

The action moved through several areas of the Town Hall, the effective scene-changing masterminded by Foxton. If sometimes Shakespeare’s dialogue got lost in the fast pace of events it could be forgiven since the cast brought off this innovative interpretation to great delight. Initially, ‘my Lady’ and other such references uttered by modern street fighters seemed incongruous but the audience adjusted amazingly quickly and the performance was both a triumph and a tribute to all concerned.

Carol Twinch