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Romeo and Juliet

by on 7 November 2021

Pinking Shears Vendetta

Romeo and Juliet

by William Shakespeare

Putney Theatre Company, at the Putney Arts Theatre until 13th November

Review by David Stephens

“Didst thou not fall out with a tailor?” asks Mercutio in Act III of Romeo and Juliet

Upon arrival at Putney Arts Theatre, a beautifully converted former chapel in SW15, the audience were warmly greeted by the friendly front-of-house staff and advised that we were free to choose our own seats within the auditorium.  The stage was open (no curtain throughout) and one could therefore see immediately that Putney Theatre Company’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was to be a modern interpretation and, at first glance, seemingly set in the premises of a seamstress or tailor.  Stage right was a mannequin and clothes rail, both adorned with dark clothing, and a tall table, complete with large scissors and fabric, all washed in a red downlight.  In stark contrast, stage left, was the perfect mirroring of this but with everything in much lighter colours and lit in green.  As it begins to sink in, this clever design tells the audience that they are, in fact, looking at the premises of two separate businesses which, as we read in the programme notes, are the rival London fashion-houses of Montague and Capulet.

In her programme notes, the director, Katie Bonham, explained that she wanted to create a modern and exciting version of the play and this becomes immediately apparent in the set design and her interpretation of both Romeo and of Juliet as female roles, putting a thought provoking spin on the original text.  Lady Capulet’s determination for Juliet to enter into an arranged marriage, for example, forces the audience to consider whether she had an additional motive for discouraging the advances of another woman and to try to manipulate her daughter into marriage with Paris, a man, instead. 

Unfortunately, however, the fashion-setting did not really work, missing a key link to the unwritten, deep-rooted hatred between the two warring factions.  In its original setting, the audience understands how the longstanding feudal hatred between the two high-ranking houses of Montague and Capulet would absolutely forbid the unity of their bloodlines, giving rise to the tragic scenes that follow.  However, despite it often being described as ‘cut-throat’, it is difficult to generate that same level of belief in the setting of London fashion.  This incredulity also extends, therefore, to the underlying motives of some of the play’s protagonist and the story becomes altogether less credible, and a lot less powerful, as a result.

That said, there were some excellent performances from a number of key cast members, with Olivia Sirley giving a moving portrayal as Romeo, paired perfectly with the aptly named Juliet O’Conner, giving a wonderfully innocent performance as her namesake.  Milly Gladstone, as the cocky ‘street’ version of Mercutio was also highly entertaining, bringing an entirely different and quite refreshing spin on this character, and Penny Weatherall gave a powerful and entirely believable performance as Capulet – her harrowing cries at the death of her daughter, Juliet, were truly moving. 

Audience etiquette is something sadly lacking in theatres nowadays, and one has grown to expect and, reluctantly, accept the sound of rustling sweet wrappers and the occasional cracking of plastic cups as they’re squashed under-foot.  However, at tonight’s performance of Romeo and Juliet at Putney Arts Theatre, this lack of etiquette was taken to a depth never before witnessed by this reviewer.  The thoughtless behaviour of three well-oiled audience members, who, throughout the performance, were talking, laughing, checking phones, taking photos, opening tins of G and T and making a general nuisance of themselves, made it near impossible to maintain the levels of concentration required to give a full and thorough review.  Important to emphasise that, while not the fault of the society themselves, this behaviour had an undoubted impact on the over-all enjoyment of the production and, in the interest of fairness to the society, must be duly noted.

David Stephens, November 2021

Photography by Robert Meades and HFD

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