Creation Theatre is renowned for taking classic texts and performing them in extraordinary locations, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the impressive surroundings of the London Library, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote in Oxford’s covered market. During the lockdown they’ve moved performances online, with innovative productions of The Wizard of Oz, The Tempest and now another of Shakespeare’s classics, Romeo and Juliet.
Directed by Natasha Rickman, Shakespeare’s tragedy is given a modern twist in this multi-platform digital production, which combines real-time performances, pre-filmed scenes and choose your own adventure-style play, where viewers have the chance to control the story – and possibly change the fate of the star-crossed lovers.
When booking the show you have the chance to choose a side: the Montagues or Capulets. There’s also the opportunity to experience a card reading before the show begins. After joining others in the Montague or Capulet room, viewers join another Zoom which takes you to the Capulet’s Ball. During the first act there’s only one decision to be made – what to drink at the ball. It’s not until later that the more interactive elements come into play and you’re given choices to make – you’ll need to be on your toes to quickly access breakout rooms and your phone handy to access QR codes. Some of the choose your own adventure aspects are a little surprising for a Shakespeare tale, particularly when one option is to ‘put on lipstick’, but on the whole it adds an interesting element to the production. Although there’s a suggestion that you could change the outcome, my choices still led to the same ending – on the one hand it feels like the tragic outcome is inevitable, but on the other it also suggests that Romeo and Juliet’s fate was their destiny.
Throughout the show the characters speak directly to the camera rather than to each other. This is obviously a deliberate choice given that many shows have managed to work around filming in isolation, but it doesn’t quite have the desired effect. Instead the production feels disjointed, and the lack of real interaction, particularly during fight scenes and interactions between Romeo and Juliet, results in the audience feeling disconnected from the piece. Likewise having to leave and join new zoom calls, and accessing QR codes slows down the action (the QR code I scanned led me to a website where I had to sign up to gain access to the content).
What helps the show is the quality of the acting. Annabelle Terry and Kofi Dennis both impress as the star-crossed lovers, and Katy Stephens certainly amuses as Nurse. Dharmesh Patel excels as Mercutio, and his Queen Mab’s speech is one of the highlights of the show.
Fans of Shakespeare will recognise snippets of dialogue from other plays, including Tempest and Hamlet, and likewise the gender swapped characters of Friar Laurence (who becomes Sister Lauren, played by Clare Humphrey) and Benvolio (Harmony Rose Bremner) are an intriguing touch which work very well.
While this certainly is a colourful production, there are times when the visual effects overpower the dialogue, and the effect is lost. Nevertheless Romeo and Juliet is certainly an innovative take on Shakespeare’s classic, and Creation Theatre has once again proved itself to be bold and ambitious with its productions. It would certainly be interesting to see this production on stage now that theatres have reopened.
Romeo and Juliet runs until 23 May. To book tickets visit https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/romeo-juliet/