Opening the autumn season at The Crucible in Sheffield is a youthful, rowdy production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Jonathan Humphreys and starring Freddie Fox and Morfydd Clark in its titular roles. Fox and Clark bring a strong sense of the youth and wild passions of these characters, and their emotions explode on stage with a dagger so often held to their necks. Fox does well both in Romeo’s softer scenes with Juliet and as the cocky – and at times raging – youth in his brawls with Tybalt. He is perhaps a little too well-spoken for the drab, harsh world in which Humphreys lays his scene, but his mop of blond hair, half open shirts, and the bottle of vodka that first accompanies him on stage create a young, impassioned Romeo. Clark, with her girlish red hair and dainty costuming was pure charisma. She gushes and sighs for her Romeo with a mixture of sweetness and constant rationalising that appeals to any audience, and she rages and screams when the part demands. But what we feel most strongly for these characters is their passion, and the way their youth sends it rocketing. They are wailing, crying, lusty teenagers that can’t keep their hands off each other, and their long goodbyes that conclude the balcony scene were perfectly executed.
The rest of the cast were most effectively used for adding comedy to the play – Rachel Lumberg’s Nurse and Joshua Miles’ Peter were the most memorable. Yet with the exception of Michael Hodgson’s fiery Lord Capulet, the drama and suspense was largely lost by this cast. Though the characterisation of Romeo and Juliet is strong throughout, the family rivalries, the acts of violence and the final tragedy all felt a little anti-climatic. The build-up to our leads first setting eyes on each other feels exciting, but by the lazier second act we are simply waiting for its inevitable end. And Simon Manyonda’s Mercutio, usually a role that brings an extra element of fire and wonder to the play, felt unvaried; his taunting of Lumberg’s Nurse’s appearance, whilst lifting her skirt and grabbing at her legs (though mildly humorous) made him downright unlikeable.
The design, costumes, and set for this production were also a strange and somewhat disappointing mix that ranged from having little to no influence on the play and its contexts to simply baffling. A corrugated iron set gave flexibility to the thrust stage. It becomes a bar, a balcony, and various doorways. The set also lends something of an urban estate feel, though the music and costuming could equally be placing us in 1980s Eastern Europe. But with Hannah Clarke’s costumes leaving the audience wondering where and when this was meant to be set, any thematic impact this new setting may have had (if any) is lost. The telephone pole that was used just once and only other purpose was to block the audience’s view was a stark reminder of this.
Humphreys gives us passion and love, with a hint of tragedy, and this producion’s leads give the audience what it truly wants from the performance. Expect laugh out loud moments, and quirky ‘modernisms’ that – despite inconsistencies – make for a fresh and more than anything youthful play.
Romeo and Juliet is on at The Crucible in Sheffield until October 17, and you can buy tickets here.