More than 400 years after it was written, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is still as relevant today.
And no more so than with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s contemporary take on the tragic story of these two star-crossed lovers at The Grand Theatre.
Questions of identity (‘That which we call a rose, By any other word would smell as sweet’), knife crime, domestic violence, and sexuality are still prevalent themes in modern times.
But director Erica Whyman takes the play one step closer to today’s world, setting the Capulet and Montague households in a multicultural society where Scottish-speaking Karen Fishwick plays Juliet and Bally Gill stars as a south Asian Romeo.
It’s a different approach that certainly works.
The role of women is also explored with Charlotte Josephine expertly stepping into the shoes of Romeo’s bawdy friend Mercutio with just the right amount of swagger while Beth Cordingly takes the traditionally male role of Escalus, Prince of Verona.
It’s clear from the start that the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) wants to appeal to a young audience and it was a delight to see youngsters from local schools given the opportunity to join the company on stage.
The talented cast are dressed mainly in black, modern clothing and grungy rock music plays during the Capulet’s party.
The minimalist set is a far cry from the traditional views of fair Verona.
But designer Tom Piper makes a success out of the industrial, rotating cube which acts as the setting throughout – from the passionate balcony scene to the tragic lovers’ final resting place.
A few of the smaller roles actually prove to be some of the more stand-out performances.
Michael Hodgson is excellent as volatile and menacing Capulet in the distressing domestic violence scene when he orders Juliet to marry suitor Paris.
Andrew French speaks the play’s prose beautifully as Friar Laurence while Ishia Bennison brings wonderful humour and heart-warming affection to the role of Juliet’s nurse.
It’s questionable whether the wandering bloodied corpses are necessary towards the end.
Isn’t Shakespeare’s language powerful enough without having scenes comparable to an 80s American ‘B-movie’?
That aside, it’s a play full of intense passion and energy, and the RSC successfully transcends this timeless story of doomed love to a new generation with a real freshness.
Until March 2