Stage@Leeds, Stage One.
Thursday 1st November 2012
Romeo and Juliet by Leeds University Theatre Group (TG); directed by Mitch Tyre.
Reviewed by Holly Boyden- first year English Literature and Theatre student.
TG’s Romeo and Juliet opened this week to a sold out bank of seating. The atmosphere was thick with anticipation and it would be impossible to say that the production did not make an impact - people left the auditorium as they should do after any Romeo and Juliet production worth its salt, emotionally battered with expressions of discomfort and awe.
By all means not a perfect production, I was however struck by the highly competent manner with which it was put together. The muted colours of the set combined with the highly effective projection onto gauze were a clever and contemporary innovation that gave the production an air of being professional, something which made it difficult to remember that this was an amateur production, and I have to keep reminding myself to judge it accordingly and not be too critical. Mitch Tyre made some astute alterations to the dynamic of the production that were not only refreshing but relevant. Instead of playing on the patriarchy that dominates much of the play, Tyre indeed took the phrase ‘deny thy father’ to heart, and threw light onto the role of the mothers, Lady Capulet and Lady Montague. The women were directed and acted in a way that made you notice them like in no production I have seen before. This shift of focus was planted in our minds from the start as the mothers dominated the production artwork- an interesting change from the usual posters that are focused on the lovers themselves. This change of perspective was something I really respected in Tyre’s adaptation, as Shakespeare is more often than not dominated by men.
I am sure every member of the audience will agree that the fight scene between the Montagues and the Capulets showed true directorial brilliance. Setting the scene to music whilst cutting out the speech and marinating the actors in atmospheric lighting was somewhat inspired, drawing our attention to the physicality and stage combat skills in a scene that is often marred by uninspiring delivery of lines. Tyre’s musical intermissions were cinematic without being reminiscent of Luhrman’s 1996 adaptation (often a point where other productions fall down,) and I wish that Tyre had made much more use of these intermissions as I feel his directorial choices often serve as a definite example of where professional productions have missed a trick.
As regards the acting, the fight scene and the ‘Mantua’ scene between Romeo (Jimi Dallimore-Symonds) and Balthazar (Luke Andrews) are points in the play where the acting was a treat to watch. I doff my cap at Matthew Conway’s wiry and psychotic portrayal of Tybalt, it is a shame that he doesn’t get as much stage time as some other characters as he was without question, the star of the show. Romeo and Juliet themselves did not have as much chemistry between them as I would have hoped, but all the same, the beautiful Alice Loney captured Juliet’s dreamy innocence, whilst Dallimore-Symonds was the archetypal Romeo, slightly too big for his boots and strikingly good looking. Charlie Booth’s Paris was also impressive, and his reaction to the news of Juliet’s death was heart wrenching. I was with him throughout that scene and he really captured the character of a genuinely nice guy, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Although the design was pretty exceptional, I would have liked to see more meaning being conveyed through costume, as at times the costumes were confusing (e.g. girl in a bright red dress in the party scene kept drawing the attention away from Romeo and Juliet.) More could have been done to distinguish the Capulets and the Montagues by simplifying the suits and toning down to shades of black and grey. I must say however, that the decision for Romeo to wear a red shirt in his death scene was effective, it punches through the dark surroundings to emphasise the brutality of the situation and the strength of his passion. Also, a little bug bear, Juliet’s white dress was far too short and didn’t fit well with Loney’s sweet and virginial portrayal of the heroine as it over sexualised her and distracted from her speech.
An exceptional mention must be given to the band (Kama Miller, Tom Cowell, Rory Smith and Brendan Bache) as their skill jolted the production up to a professional standard and their presence behind the gauze was almost ghostly in its omniscience.
A romantic production of pounding pace, Romeo and Juliet was full of nuances that are testimony to Tyre’s skill as a director.
As Shakespeare would say, Mitch Tyre, ‘you [direct] by the book.’