Romeo and Juliet

March 7, 2018 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆    Full blooded

Pleasance Theatre: Tue 6 – Sat 10 Mar 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is plenty to like about the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s full-blooded, modern dress production of Romeo and Juliet at the Pleasance Theatre, to Saturday.

Director Finlay McAfee’s focus is on creating a credible and believable narrative by bringing out and examining the extent of the passion between hot-headed Romeo, first son of clan Montague, and Juliet, the only daughter of the rival clan Capulet.

Eliza Lawrence and Douglas Clark. Pic Andrew Perry

Against all the turmoil and angst created by two very credible performances from Douglas Clark as Romeo and Eliza Lawrence as Juliet, the niceties and nuances of the battle between the two families struggles to find as clear a voice. Which is a bit of a problem in a production which spreads to well over three hours.

McAfee does ensure, however, that everything is very clear indeed – partly thanks to the staging and design by Laura Hounsell and Ben Schofield. It is performed in front of a stark and hard-edged set, with crepuscular lighting. An apron stage thrusts out into the auditorium while scrims allow the playing area to go right to the back of the stage at time.

This adds an almost cinematic flow to the production at times. It is notably successful in the Capulet’s party, where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. Bringing them right to the front of the apron, McAfee puts them practically in the audience’s lap, their kiss existing in a different space and time to the rest of the company.

Juliet’s bedroom, too, provides for some nice staging tricks. The window out onto her famous balcony can move in front of and behind her bed – and sometimes does so during a scene – so that the change of focus is smooth.


There is, however, a lot of clodhopping in and out of the auditorium, with actors pounding down the aisles to enter or leave from the front, in a way that detracts from what is happening on stage.

Eliza Lawrence and Douglas Clark. Pic Andrew Perry

The balcony scene itself is a huge triumph, both in terms of its staging and the performances from Clark and Lawrence. They examine the full depth of Shakespeare’s lines, yet their body language says so much more about the huge erotic charge and tension that is unsaid but understood between them.

It sets things up nicely for the near-madness of their infatuation with each other, their desperation to be together and the almost immediate recourse to the language of suicide every time they are forced to be apart.

Indeed, while Clark’s misery and physical anguish as he roles around on the ground upon hearing he is to be banished for killing Juliet’s cousin Tybalt could be construed as being overblown, everything that has gone before makes it seem quite moderate and consequently the final tragedy is a natural progression.

great understanding

Key to that tragedy is the well-intentioned advice of Friar Lawrence. Esmée Cook brings a great understanding to the role. She is both a great confidante to the two lovers – ensuring that their individual conversations with her have great naturalism – while helping to understand that it is her failure to stand up for the lovers against the argument between the two families is their undoing.

Eliza Lawrence and Esmée Cook. Pic Andrew Perry

That, however, is really the extent of the depth given to the tension between the two houses. In some ways that is a relief – there have been plenty of modern dress versions which use the play to frame a debate about civil war and strife.

However, where this loses is in the banter and word-play of the various factions. The fighting talk from Sampson (Billy Slater) and Gregory (Gordon Stackhouse) in the opening scene focusses so much on mocking lust and making sure that the ribald double meanings are clear, that all else is lost.

This extends to the main elements of banter when Romeo, Mercutio (Will Peppercorn), Benvolio (Michael Black) and Balthasar (Grace Dickson – who proves a superb Prologue) are off to the Capulet party. Mercutio’s great Queen Mab speech is well enough done by Peppercorn, but it never tingles into life in the way it could – a herald of the desperate madness that is to inflict its mischief on his friend.


Similarly, the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt (Michael Hajiantonis) are nicely staged, with real understanding of stage fight technique. But rather than being any commentary on the warring factions, they are means to an end in Romeo and Juliet’s fate.

Kirsten Millar. Pic Andrew Perry

Of what you might call the grown-up roles, Kirsten Millar makes a really great job of Nurse. She’s just vulgar and earthy enough, is with Juliet all the way, her role in the household as being more important that her station might indicate is clear and her own conflict at the death of Mercutio is eloquently portrayed.

Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller storms around as Capulet, quite the despotic father figure with Lucy Davidson’s Lady Capulet completely in his control. Unfortunately Brimmer-Beller’s natural American accent doesn’t sit well when it is the only one. He has a tendency to sound smooth but not convey great meaning. When called on for scary brutality, however, he delivers it with a proper jolt.

Overall this is a well-constructed production, which just needs more attention to performance detail in the early scenes and he pacing of the final act to raise it another couple of levels.

Running time three hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
Pleasance Theatre, Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance EH8 9TJ.
Tuesday 6 – Saturday 10 March 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm.
This is a paperless production. The online programme is here:

EUSC Facebook: @eushakespeare
Twitter: @EdUniShakeSoc.


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