Strong and very Northern Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare, Northern Broadsides: Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until Saturday When the Halifax-based Northern Broadsides Company do Shakespeare you know you're not going to get anything twee.

Ivan Howlett

Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare, Northern Broadsides: Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until tonight

When the Halifax-based Northern Broadsides Company do Shakespeare you know you're not going to get anything twee. Its Artistic Director, Barrie Rutter, believes passionately in Broadsides' Northern Voice. John Prescott, admittedly not renowned as a Shakespearean scholar, once described his work as “factory floor Shakespeare, as far away from elitism as can be.”

So what you have in this modern dress Romeo and Juliet is the Capulets and Montagues sounding like rival mill owner families who've hated each other for generations. When it comes to the Capulet party the action features clog dancing to the accompaniment of Trad band music.


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What's done very well is the anger, the street violence, taunts, gang baiting and fight scenes. That and almost anything that requires the music it seems the whole cast can play and sing in styles from jazz to barbershop, and hand bell ringing to late Mediaeval sung Requiem.

The generational ignorance and bitter fury at youth that wants to do its own thing is tellingly caught. There's a plenty of brisk vigour and shouting - perhaps a little too much of the latter - and strong performances from Fine Time Fontayne as Friar Laurence, whose contrivings to get the star-crossed lovers safely together go hopelessly wrong, Chris Nayak's Benvolio, Peter Toon's Mercutio who justifiably wishes a plague on both their houses, and Barrie Rutter as Capulet. Rutter, the company's father figure and director, is the dominant presence; and the one who best gives us the play's Shakespearean language.

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So we come to the young stars - Benedict Fogarty and the almost childlike (remember, Juliet is only fourteen) Sarah Ridgeway. My view is that they both improve when tragedy enters their lives - when Tybald is killed and Romeo banished. Sadly, the balcony scene is frankly limp and is not helped by the fact that the balcony itself is so far to side of the stage that some at the Royal will have found it difficult to see it. Originally it was done on the theatre-in-the round stage at the New Vic Theatre in Staffordshire. Benedict Fogarty improves with his anger and Sarah Ridgeway's best scenes come when she is deciding to swallow the vial and also her death scene.

The theatre was packed with young people enjoying the show. No doubt they realising the play was about their own lives as much as the marks they hope to pick up in exams.

Ivan Howlett

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