Romeo & Juliet 2014
Adapted by Michael Wicherek and OneNess Sankara
Directed by Iqbal Khan
4th March 2014. 19.00
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Romeo & Juliet with a cast of three plus an onstage DJ / sound mixer? That’s right. We’d thought it was going to be dance, but it was athletic and gymnastic theatre. Judging by the rows of sixth form girls in the audience, most thought it was dance, or were sent by the school. Box Clever is a school specialist company, but don’t let that stop you from going.
The cast of three are Juliet, Romeo, and a Narrator / Interlocutor / Other parts character. As well as linking, narrating, interacting with Romeo and Juliet, the narrator did extracts of the apothecary, the friar, relatives, the nurse and the Tybalt fight scene. The play is stripped to 60 minutes and the characters of Romeo and Juliet. At a guess it’s about half Shakespeare, half modern English. The modern English was MLE, so a diversion :
Linguists have become interested in the recent London accent which replaces Estuary which replaced Cockney: MLE or Multicultural London English. This accent was highlighted by Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic ‘white rapper’ Ali G. It mixes Caribbean, Cockney, Pakistani, Cypriot, Indian and African influences. Notable features include the ‘ah’ sound for ‘i’: [lahk] rather than standard [like] or Cockney [loik]. Face is standard [fehs], not Cockney [fice]. MLE doesn’t drop the initial ‘h’ in house or hat, while Cockney is [‘ouse ]/ [‘at]. But MLE does have the Cockney glottal stop so water is [wa’er], and has the use of ‘f’ or ‘v’ to replace ‘th’ as in [farvver] for father, and [fink] for think. It’s definitely a youth, or as they would say in MLE [yoof] accent.
There ends the linguistics. It was fascinating to hear Shakespeare lines done with clarity and sense in MLE (OK, I’ve seen them in Irish, Scottish, Jamaican and Indian many times). The linking narration was good, and funny (“It’s good stuff,” the apothecary assures Juliet handing her the sleeping potion). The actual Shakespeare was taken seriously, and a truly great achievement: the death scenes came over as tragic with nary a laugh from the audience. Contrast the august National Theatre’s King Lear a few days ago when “I am slain” got gales of laughter.
(Different theatre and costumes; probably different actors, but it shows the set)
The set was a heart shaped ladder, and a raised heart shaped lighted platform. It was athletic in Peter Brooks style – Juliet hanging upside down from the bars while doing her lines. It was highly inventive.
The young cast could slip in and out of MLE at will too. Sixty minutes. No interval. Great sound mix. Excellent lighting. Audience brought in to the plot. As someone who doesn’t like Romeo & Juliet much, I loved this energetic and youthful production.