Event Review: 'Romeo and Juliet' Exposes The Dark Teenage Heart
It felt apropos that this year’s Bede’s Junior Production was staged during the warmest week of the year so far, for on hot days, as we might all attest, the mad blood stirs.
A tale synonymous with love and loss, Romeo and Juliet famously sees cousins, brothers, parents and friends at terminal loggerheads, and, under Director of Drama Karen Lewis’ expert direction, both the balminess of the Miles Studio theatre and the simmering version of the Bard’s Verona within it proved fertile settings for such a drama.
Presented as a distorted iteration of modern-day Miami, a city of sweltering streets connecting sleazy nightclubs, close cloisters and gaudy mansions, the production stranded audiences amidst heat-maddened teenagers.
As the cast reeled and gambolled, moving in packs, fights threatened to start over sideways glances. Cheap thrills begged to be chased down, narrators appeared on glitchy mobile phone recordings and pistols nestled awkwardly out of sight, all combining to create a heady and surreal mix of atmosphere, attitude and menace.
Romeo and Juliet is, of course, one of the finest plays ever written about the teenage mind-set, and it was therefore appropriate that this production was themed around the music and fashion of today’s youth.
Scenes were backed by Trap and EDM music and the young cast were dressed as if headed for a night on the town, their stylish trainers, lightweight hoodies and skinny jeans barely containing their restless juvenile delinquency.
Tellingly however, each also sported a touch of neon; a green streak of makeup or clothing for the Capulets, blue for the Montagues.
Otherwise, all aspects of the staging, costume and set were monochrome, and this neatly signalled that, between the black and white guidance set down by preoccupied parents, the children were being enabled to revel in grey – both in their clothing and in the gaps between the explicit words of their elders.
Into this heady mix, with warring families locked in an uneasy ceasefire, strolled Max Jones’ faraway Romeo – a softly spoken boy with excellent hair, a handsome face, and a brain preoccupied with little aside from romance.
Supported in his endeavours by his refreshingly timid, sensitive and vulnerable friend Benvolio, played with genuine skill by Henry Gomer, and his slender, pale and creepy mentor Friar Lawrence, as embodied with characteristic excellence by Max Mason, Romeo of course found his love in the form of Echo Abraham’s innocent, brattish Juliet – daughter of his father’s enemy.
Playing a part as wide-eyed and impressionable as Juliet is far from simple, and young Ms. Abraham did so with grace. Clear, expressive and unswervingly naïve, she, like her Romeo, played her part with wide-eyed youthfulness and appropriate depth.
With these young lovers being not, perhaps, the most contemplative of Shakespeare’s characters, Echo and Max demonstrated sincere and believable churlishness, candour and affection in the title roles, and their squeaky-voiced strops contrasted neatly with their whispered words of vivacious adulation.
Elsewhere, Lower Fifth pupil Freddie Tuson played Mercutio with artful dexterity. Arguably the play’s most interesting personality, the brilliantly volatile sceptic was rendered here as a husky, cynical rude boy replete with a signet ring.
Both physically irrepressible and zealously animated, this was Tuson’s finest performance on a Bede’s stage to date, and well done to him for making the role his own.
Playing Mercutio’s counterpoint, meanwhile, was First Year Adam Bradley on fine, sneering form. Suave and sinister, his velvet-suited Tybalt deserved everything he got and stood in stark contrast to George Lewis’ Paris.
The play’s cursed angel, George was dressed in an outrageous and boldly white costume, and his wide-eyed performance added strains of pathos and softness to an otherwise breathless, dark and shadowy production.
Strong performances also came from a brooding and, at times, explosive Will Hopkins as a neck-tattooed Lord Capulet, an arch and severe Freya Palmer as Lady Capulet, and an outstandingly warm and strikingly nuanced rendition of Juliet’s Nurse care of Emily Adams.
It would be easy to forget the youth of this cast, rounded out by so many First Year and Lower Fifth pupils that there is not space here to mention them all.
It is extraordinary to think, however, that the oldest performers here were aged just 15. All did fantastically as individuals, but their endeavours, when combined, left audiences with a heavy and commanding impression both of their theatrical skill and the play’s clear moral coda.
A tragedy for all time, this version of Romeo and Juliet served to remind us that children are quixotic, passionate and in dire need of guidance.
Thankfully, in this case, leadership was in clear abundance, both from the wider Bede’s Drama department and within the cast’s own number.
All involved should be very proud of what they accomplished.