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Romeo and Juliet

by on 15 November 2019

Love Is Heavy and Light

Romeo and Juliet

by William Shakespeare

Youth Action Theatre at Hampton Hill Theatre until 16th November

Review by Stephen Leslie

Youth Action Theatre last staged Romeo and Juliet at Hampton Court Theatre, over thirty five years ago, in a production which boasted the name of Rebecca Wheatley, who has gone on to enjoy a very successful career in television, radio and theatre. I feel certain that thirty five years from now we’ll be talking about the success of the amazingly talented actors in the current production.

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I understand the decision to produce the show was taken back in August 2017 on the way home from a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival and during that time directors Emily Moss and Jojo Leppink seem to have methodically planned every detail of the production, providing their young cast with the perfect platform to deliver thoroughly entertaining and professional performances.

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The contemporary setting was brilliantly framed by Alice Metcalf with a highly creative and original stage design. The juxtaposition of the Capulet’s car garage and the Montague’s portrait of traditional wealth, cleverly depicted the divide between the two families and in doing so provided the perfect back drop for the conflict which ensued.

RomJulYAT_5536Despite Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet circa 1594, the themes which run strongly through the story are as relevant today as they were then. Not only did we empathise with the characters, but we identified with them, helped more so by their present-day attire which included mechanic’s overalls and T-shirts displaying the names of musicians such as Bowie, Def Leppard and AC/DC. This was a master-class in bringing Shakespeare into the twenty-first century.

The conflict between the two families was highlighted almost immediately with a chaotic brawl which had been carefully choreographed by ex-YATer Id Wheatley. The brutality increased as the story unfolded, with both Capulets and Montagues being slain in convincing bloody fight scenes.

But it wasn’t all violence! The playful and love-struck Juliet was brilliantly portrayed by Esme Frazer, demonstrating a widRomJulYAT_6089e range of emotions from extreme joy, to absolute despair in the closing moments of the play. Equally impressive was her Romeo, played by Jake O’Hare, who found a good balance of bravado and sincerity as he glided effortlessly through the highs and lows of his fateful journey.

There were also fine performances from: Lucy Allan as the mischievous Nurse; Alex Farley as the straight-talking Lawrence and Oliver Hickey as the larger-than-life Capulet, who commanded the stage and brought great humour to the performance. But special praise must go to Elle Frazer, whose Mercutio bounced around the stage with boundless energy, flitting from friend to tormentor, until she came to a particularly gruesome end.

A production is only as strong as its weakest link but there were no weak links, with every actor playing their part with conviction and credibility. With so many talented performers I imagine casting the show must have been extremely difficult for all the right reasons. This was a truly ensemble piece which embodied the YAT spirit and drew on the talents of its members to create something truly great, including President Eileen Baker whose voice-over closed the play.

The programme tells us that Youth Action Theatre is dedicated to inspiring young people. I can’t lay claim to being young but I certainly left Hampton Hill Theatre feeling inspired, having been totally gripped by this outstanding production. Congratulations to all involved and I very much look forward to seeing the next show which will be The Snow Queen in April next year.

Stephen Leslie
November 2019

Photography by Jojo Leppink at Handwritten Photography

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