Theatre Review - Romeo and Juliet

Showing between Thursday 12th and Saturday 21st February 2009 @ Bristol Old Vic

The Bristol Old Vic is a wonderfully atmospheric venue that deserves to be showcasing the best of British theatre. It needs high-calibre innovative plays to secure its future success. Unfortunately, the latest production of Romeo and Juliet, for all its energy, falls short.

With a work as popular and frequently performed as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a director must make their production stand-out. This is achieved by either relying on the actors to extract contemporary resonance from the text or they must innovate and create their own vision. John Hartoch, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Schools’ director since 1981, appears to have opted for the former and therein lies the problem.

Romeo, as played by Andy Daniel, fails ultimately because it is impossible to believe he is capable of experiencing the passion that is at the core of the play. There is little evidence of the melancholy or tumultuous emotion that rules Romeo. Daniel’s Romeo is a comedic character that skips about the stage even when delivering the most profound speeches. The play to some extent crumbles around this unconvincing portrayal of angst.

The opening acts are rattled through at a quick tempo, with much of the gravity of the situation lost entirely. Whereas the battles both mental and physical are suitably fast, the linguistic nuances of the emotional exchanges are not given the time to work on the audience. The first half of tonight’s performance is boisterous and bawdy rather than brooding.

The second half is better. Emerald O’Hanrahan provides a compellingly unhinged if melodramatic take on Juliet. In fact the consistently sombre tone of the second half is far better rendered by the cast. The frenetic exchanges between Friar Lawrence and Romeo at the very least provide an uncomfortable energy better suited to the play’s themes.

By far the best performance belongs to Jack Wharrier as Mercutio. He is one of the few actors who succeeds in demonstrating the wit and power of the text. Wharrier delivers the lines with aplomb and a strong physical presence. The other positive is the set, which is economical and intelligently employed.

Overall, tonight’s performance feels rushed and more than a little hollow. The conflicts that frame and drive the play are lost to the unfaltering pace. Hartoch may well have pitched for those afflicted with a short attention span, but he would have been better served allowing the power of Shakespeare’s words to settle, even for a moment, in this beautiful theatre.

Tom Spooner

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6 Responses to “Theatre Review - Romeo and Juliet”

  1. Marisa Says:

    I went to the opening night of the play on Thursday, the theatre was packed to the rafters with very young teen-agers - the same age as the protagonists. It was obvious to me from their reponses that they were totally engaged with the play, and that it spoke to them. It spoke to me too. I thought the energy and choreography and the quick tempo made it exhilarating, and the lighter touches provided a contrast with the darker themes, which made the range wider, and therefore more credible. I agree Jack Wharrier’s Mercutio was outstanding, and that Emerald O’Hanrahan provided a complex and multidimentional portrayal of Juliet, certainly compelling, but hardly unhinged, much less melodramatic. Juliet’s extreme youth, excitment, wilfulness, delight in her newly discovered passion, and despair at its sudden loss are all articulated and modulated with considerable skill, and even the most well-known speeches were delivered with a matter-of-fact freshness, and were not mannered.
    Andy Daniel also emphasised his character’s youth, and his Romeo is hopeful, love-struck and sunnier than I would have expected (as Paris was more sympathetically protrayed than I have seen before). But this fresh angles made the madness, fury and violence stand out even more - the murder of Tybalt (incidentally very cleverly and deftly crafted by Jack Hardwick) produced a surprising intensity of violence, the more shocking because of the earlier gentleness.
    Rosalind Steele as the Nurse and Louis McKenzie as Friar Lawrence also deserve a mention for spirited performances. I thoroughly enjoyed the play. Thank you to all involved.

  2. faye Says:


    Have you thought about writing for local magazines?? namely us???? We would love to meet you xxx

  3. Phil Says:

    I just been to see Romeo and Juliet and thought it was fantastic. It was very witty and engaged the audience superbly! T

  4. Phil Says:

    I have just been to see Romeo and Juliet and thought it was fantastic. It was very witty and engaged the audience superbly! The wittiness of it makes it suitable for a wider audience. I have seen many Shakespeare plays where they are performed ‘normally’ and allow Shakespeare’s word to settle in but Hartoch, the director, has employed a more witty side to it than you would expect when reading the play from a book. The cast received a ’standing ovation’ at the end. I for one enjoyed it and it brought new life to the meaning of Shakespeare’s plays. Jack Wharrier as Mercutio is fantastic, his wit and charm are amazing.

    My thoughts afterwards were that it was not a ’standard’ portrayal of Shakespeare, in the sense that this portrayal contained a lot of wit for a tragedy. However, for me it worked but for others it may not. Although the scenery at first glance seems rather ‘tacky’ it is actually a work of ‘master-class’ as it is adjustable and moves on wheels. I do not want to say too much otherwise it will spoil it for those who have not yet seen it. I have already book a ticket to go and see this play again as I enjoyed it that much.

  5. London visitors Says:

    Tom Spooner is far too hard on this production, which we saw on Wed night. The young cast induced an atmosphere in the theatre quiet enough to hear a dropped pin - no mean feat with so many young people present. Andy Daniel and Emerald O’ Hanrahan used considerable skill in their portrayal of the leading characters as believable, largely innocent young teenagers at the mercy of the adult world around them . Miss O’Hanrahan’s performance was only as melodramatic as thirteen year old girls can be, Juliet matured in advance of her age as the play progressed. This was no unhinged Ophelia. I particularly enjoyed Miss O’Hanrahan’s light touch, her Juliet was a totally sympathetic portrayal. Rosalind Steele was wonderfully focused in her role as the Nurse, her timing confident, veering between caring mother-figure and irresponsible conspirator, carrying the audience with her as she moved from comedy to tragedy. Samantha Barron’s coolness as Lady Capulet was palpable and well contrasted with her emotional appearance in the final scene.

    Jack Wharrier’s portrayal of Mercutio did indeed stand out - in turns flamboyant, sarcastic, edgy,scornful, impatient. He has a highly individual presence, his swirling green-coated figure moving across the stage in tune with his words; his delivery of the ‘Queen Mab’ speech was one of the high points of the evening.

    Mention should be made of Christopher Faulds’ costume design. If the intention was to convey the timelessness of the story, the costumes fulfilled it well. The combination of Elizabethan ruffles, 18thC coats, Victorian boots, modern suits, and anything in between, gave the play an unexpected cohesiveness particularly when contrasted with the clever starkness of Philippa Thomas’ set design.

    Yes there were weaker points, but John Hartoch’s direction brought forth fine performances from the young actors, many of whom were playing their first full-length Shakespearean roles and who provided an emotional and hugely enjoyable evening. There are only two performances left………hurry!

  6. Faye Says:

    I have to agree I thought the production was great! But of course everyone is entitled to their opinion! …………………………………… xxx

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