So. It is 11:00 pm on a Friday. I am joined by my two flatmates. We are dragging our feet as we walk to London’s Globe Theatre. Quite frankly, after a full working week I cannot think of a single thing I want to do less than see another tired, old, stiffy performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “Why are we so pretentious?” I ask my fellow English students. Why had we allowed ourselves to get roped into the idea that if Shakespeare is playing at the Globe, we would be forsaking our degree if we didn’t go see it? So pressured were we, that we had booked the cheaper midnight matinée performance, just so we could afford it. But now I’m resenting the choice as old Willy is the only thing standing between me and my bed. We sit outside the theatre on the Thames, knocking back a few cans of cheap whisky and cola from Tesco just to ensure we stay awake for it.
It’s time to go in and I’m less than enthusiastic, to say the very least. We settle into our seats (‘partially obscured’, of course – what else can students afford?). The lights go off. A hush falls across the theatre. A booming voice announces the famous prologue: “Two houses both alike in dignity…” But…that’s odd. There are people breathing heavily into the microphone. Has the sound guy just been for a jog? The doors on the centre stage open, and in wheels Lady Capulet and Lady Montague, dressed in black. They are sat on an operating table, spread eagle, covered by a sheet. They are giving birth to two infant-sized coffins. The prologue reaches an end. Suddenly a warped voice yells “DROP THE BASS” and dubstep blasts in the theatre. The scene is alive with dancers, and the mothers are now air guitaring using their future dead baby’s coffins. “What the fuck” is my only intelligent assessment of the scene.
From that moment onwards I knew that this was not going to be your typical (and let’s be honest, boring) portrayal of Rom and Juls. It was a Shakespeare play for those who don’t really like Shakespeare. Picture emo Romeo in a beanie, headphones and doc martins, sulking on the stage, looking like his tumblr handle is something related to Edgar Allan Poe. Picture Benvolio dabbing. Picture a queer Mercutio giving a strip tease. Picture Lady Capulet cackling and swinging her weave. Picture the Village People’s YMCA playing at the Capulet ball. Picture Romeo and Juliet meeting during what looks like Porn Idol night at Heaven. It was the type of performance that suited a midnight matinée because, as my companion suggested, “It’s basically a night out.”
It would be wrong to say that a modern ‘hood’ adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is particularly original. For example, the play borrowed the gun element from Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation, and even KCL’s production transformed the apothecary scene into a sketchy drug deal. However, there were some very unique moments. The set design was original (nuclear warheads hovered above the antiquated posh marble pillars). The structure was interesting (Juliet’s monologue in Act 3 Scene 2 – “Though I am sold, not yet enjoyed” – was conflated with Tybalt’s death making the play about the family’s lust for violence, rather than simply lust and violence). The characters were also wearing clown makeup, which gradually faded as the play progressed, meaning that, by the end, Romeo and Juliet were the only ones who looked the most natural (very telling symbolism).
With a queer spin, an excellent cast, a decent set design, tactful scene splicing and an innovative use of makeup, director Daniel Kramer manages to pull off a modern production of Romeo and Juliet like you have never seen it before.
At Shakespeare’s Globe, London, until 9 July.