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Spirited rendition of Shakespeare that soars in second half

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Being such a mainstay and fixture of the theatrical landscape, any performance of Romeo and Juliet begs the question: what can be offered that is new?

That goes double when the budget is shoestring, the stage small, and the setting an intimate pub theatre, as in this production at the Rosemary Branch Theatre.

Well, for starters, the number of actors has been condensed to a mere seven. All the cast portray multiple characters, with the exception of a consummate Romeo (Benjamin Ireland) and an excellent Juliet (Carla Kingham).

This refinement has not resulted in any real sacrifices or casualties, save for Lord Capulet, whose lines have been absorbed by Lady Capulet.

A live mixed soundscape has also been injected to bolster proceedings, although unfortunately, this is an experiment that doesn’t always succeed. The sound provides a perpetual hum which, occasionally, detracts rather than compliments the dialogue.

It draws parallels with Baz Luhrmann’s film from 1996, which paired contemporary music with a contemporary setting. This production offers update in music alone, creating a distracting incongruity between the semi-contemporary score and the historically-sensitive environment.

Yet despite these misgivings, this is a spirited and competent rendition – especially in the second half, when it truly soars. Post-interval, there is a measured dynamic and execution that lifts the production from good to very good indeed, and special mention must go to the stand-out performances: Jason Eddy as The Friar, Mark Rush at the Nurse and Catherine Rowney, who is a powerhouse when depicting Lady Capulet.

* Romeo and Juliet is at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Shepperton Road, N1, until November 4.

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