Touring productions from National Shakespeare companies coming to Blackpool was an exciting prospect, as its not often we get such big theatre productions this far into the regions. Despite the excitement and the promise it held, the evening was distinctly disappointing.
The first and biggest issue I’d like to address is the casting of Charlotte Josephine as Mercutio. The idea of having a female Mercutio is immense and had they executed the idea thoughtfully it would have worked. Sadly, they wasted this opportunity to add a groundbreaking take on a canonical Shakespearian role. While having the body of a woman, the delivery of the words and actions were indistinguishable from every man that has come before. This isn’t to say that there is a distinctly masculine or feminine way to deliver Shakespeare but that with the choice of changing gendered role It would be nice to see any evidence of change towards the delivery, and the role of Mercutio. In this production, Mercutio remained nothing more than Romeo’s slightly bawdy friend, and in case that wasn’t clear by the language, some thrusts and other lewd gestures were added in for good measure. I would say the same of other changes to gendered roles in the play too, that had some serious thought gone into the consequences and effects of the directional choices then they would have worked.
The play marketed as a ‘contemporary production’; however, much like its altered gender roles, the lack of depth beyond the surface level, cosmetic change resulted in a bland execution. The stage design was a rusting, industrial feel with metal panels and a square, rotating box centre stage. The actor’s costumes gestured towards high street brands, and at the ball, the cast instead danced to rave-like music, Beyond these cosmetic changes, there was no radical modernisation and, unlike previous productions where the modern setting served to relate Shakespeare to present times and issues, there was no depth. It was alterations like this that made the production incoherent for me, as while the cast wore bomber jackets some of them still held daggers rather than knives.
As an ending positive remark, I thought Bally Gall did a decent job of portraying Romeo, bringing the appropriate contrast of love-sick dog moping in the corner to the slightly more feisty Juliet played by Karen Fishwick. Generally, some members in the young cast showed promise, and with a few more years in the RSC company, I have little doubt that they will become seasoned actors.
Overall, this production is very much one designed for schools, a half-hearted attempt at modernisation of Shakespeare’s classic to make it accessible for a younger audience that lacked depth and thought. If you’re someone used to Shakespeare, then this is not a production worth watching. My honest opinion is that if this is all the RSC can be bothered to send to the regions, knowing what they are capable of as a theatre group, then we’re good. We’re not that desperate for cultural material that we’ll lap up anything we can get, and we can certainly do better than this.