Friday, 30 January 2009

Romeo & Juliet Docklands - The Space

Romeo and Juliet Docklands by William Shakespeare
Director: John Seaforth
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Admiration Theatre have moved Shakespeare’s tragic tale of fatal young love from the heated Italian streets of Verona to the cold industrial swathes of London’s Docklands in an attempt to make it more understandable to the people of the Isle of Dogs. Sadly this admirable idea does not translate at all in this placeless and unengaged production which if anything, makes the world’s most recognisable story a little incomprehensible.

Shuffling around the stage the cast are unable to be heard as their words are swallowed under painstakingly practiced East London accents. Furthermore under a muffled forest of dropped H’s and T’s they seem to have no understanding of what they are saying and so even when they are heard this does not assist the telling of this story. Along with the accents, hoods are used to indicate that we are in Docklands but there is very little else; indeed they seem to be moving around in a no man’s land, completely negating the idea that a further understanding of the text or engagement from the local population, can be gained from contemporising the location.

The cast are clearly trying very hard, but in this empty space find it impossible to form any meaningful connections and as such seem uncomfortable and self conscious throughout. Most importantly neither is any connection created with the audience, who therefore cannot care about the tragedy of their plight deeming the whole thing a bit pointless.

Also adding to the general sense of disjointed confusion are the movement sequences which supposedly forming the heart of the piece. These seem superfluous as do the white masks which at times form a chorus and at others a dead Paris. These stick out like a sore thumb and further add to the sense that this is a production with too many ideas, none of which seem to have come through successfully to form a cohesive whole.

It is easy to see in principle why John Seaforth felt that transposing Romeo and Juliet to Docklands would bring a contemporary richness from this text. The premature maturity in the youthful leads, the violence inherent within the action from the start and the tragic consequences which that violence and prejudice leads to are sadly things which Londoners, and especially East Londoners, are particularly familiar with. None of this comes through in Romeo and Juliet Docklands however, the only redeeming feature of which is that regardless of this production’s faults Shakespeare’s powerful story shines through at points. But before Admiration Theatre can do this story and their good intentions justice, they must stop thinking about making it mean something for the people of the Isle of Dogs and start thinking about what it actually means to them.
Romeo & Juliet Docklands runs at The Space until the 14th February
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