Cathy Sole and Max Davison as Juliet and Romeo – photo © Joshua Carver
Setting a very familiar Shakespeare classic tragedy in a modern context is often seen as a brave decision, but Director Immi Lea shows us how to get it right.
It always takes me a few scenes to settle into a contemporary framed Shakespeare, but to be honest it takes the same few scenes on any kind of production of his work as I adjust my ear to his turn of phrase. So Verona is now a rural Norfolk pub called The Verona, with many familiar features but a bit more stabby than any pub I have visited outside of East End London or maybe Portsmouth docks. Even Prince of Wales Road on a Friday night does not really measure up to the threat level posed by the warring Capulet and Montague families pursuing their generations long feud.
One of the features that makes this a stand out production is how Director Immi Lea has marshalled her set design and lighting team to give us painterly scenes of memorable excellence which make great use of the naturally intriguing Maddermarket stage space, including a few startling interventions from what some might expect to be safe audience space. Somebody involved has studied the Dutch masters, I reckon. Costumes are modern but not intrusive and fit the stage set colour palette.
As is not entirely unusual these days there is some mixing and matching of gender expectations and stereotypes. Again, at first this catches the eye as Romeo (Max Davison) enjoys laddish horseplay with his chums Benvolio (Georgie Matthews) and Mercutio (Ruby Bardwell-Dix) that would fetch him a #MeToo summons sharpish nowadays, but we soon settle into this new and frankly rather enjoyable normal as the text takes us through their adventures, and there we are back enjoying a bevy or two in the pub, albeit the pub with a severe mortality index.
Capulet (Robert Tiffen) and his missus (Anja Kick) are great fun, a glorious depiction of new money swagger, with his red trousers only eclipsed by her scarlet lipstick. Susan Seddon enjoys her role as the frankly batty old Norfolk nurse, mardling her lengthy way through some really rather improbable Shakespearian plot devices that suddenly seem much more credible when some old Martham mawther is spinning out the slow divulgence of some vital nugget of intelligence. Patiently (mostly) the winsome Juliet (Cathy Sole) retains warmth towards her nurse even when most of us are tempted to go and give her a clip round the lug in our impatience. Cathy is well cast as Juliet, the headstrong and determined young paramour who according to the text is little over eleven years old, which is precocious even for Great Yarmouth these days. The lovers are convincing and beautifully portrayed by the two leads, their skills no doubt enhanced by their time at the UEA Drama department where they each study. I am regularly impressed by the quality of work from this school, and the crossover with the resources and magic of the Maddermarket always brings good results.
No tragic romance in a rural setting is complete without a characterful vicar on hand, and Jen Alexander creates a complex and even conniving persona whose good intentions are not entirely crowned with the outcome of lasting wedded bliss intended, but with subtle performance not yielding to the temptation to overdo the drama. I know, spoiler alert I should have said, but if you really are not familiar with the basic outline of this sad tale then you are unlikely to be reading this review, or anything.
Every member of the eighteen strong cast plays their part convincingly in this competent version of one of the world’s most popular plays. The story is a tragedy, but this company still managed to give the Bard’s words warmth and humour amongst the tidal wave of pathos that the title guarantees. On opening night the theatre looked full to me so make sure you book quickly so as not to miss this memorable and thoroughly enjoyable show, which is on until 26th March at the Maddermarket Theatre.
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 22 March 2022
Find out more and make bookings here: https://maddermarket.co.uk/event/romeo-juliet/