Ola Ince's take on Romeo and Juliet stresses teenage mental health and suicide
“I will kiss thy lips;
Haply some posion yet doth hang on them
To make die with a restorative.”
I don’t ever recall seeing a directing credit, and one for playing Juliet, for the same person within the fortnight. So Rebekah Murrell who plays Juliet with great feeling and clarity at the Globe was the director of J’Ouvert, the play about the Notting Hill Carnival at the Pinter.
Juliet’s age in Shakespeare’s play was 13 but in Ola Ince’s version she has been elevated to 16 so that although Romeo would be accused of manslaughter of two, he wouldn’t be classed as a paedophile.
The take on the play by Ms Ince is to underline mental health issues suffered by teenagers and teenage suicide. This is done by displaying a dozen or so slides, the typeface red on black drawing attention to statistics and, of course, offering supportive organisations at the end who address the suicidal and those affected by suicide.
Normally when the Globe had published programmes this slant on the play would be explained by some erudite articles in the theatre programme. Here it cannot be overlooked but does interfere with the telling of Shakespeare’s story.
The slides are almost like proselytising. The first tells us that “20% of teenagers suffer from depression”, the second that “Patriarchy is the system in which men hold the power”. Is the implication that Romeo’s rejected love for Rosaline has left him with depression? Friar Lawrence (Sargon Yelda) is often seen as Romeo’s father or patriarchal figure, rather than Montague, who in this production does not figure at all.
Certainly we have no doubt as to who is in charge of the Capulet household, with Silas Carson’s mafia like besuited Capulet shouting at his daughter and forcing her to marry Paris with indecent haste. As the first we see of Juliet is her practising kick boxing, we hope she might be able to defend herself, but 16th century Verona is definitely a patriarchal society. Here we are in modern dress.
The next slide tells us that “When boys are taught the rules of patriarchy they are forced to withdraw their feelings”. I’m not sure about the relevance of this to the play.
Mercutio (Adam Gillen) has already established himself as the class clown before his Queen Mab speech with trumpet fanfare. This is one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful speeches but he is allowed to over play everything. Looking like a young Wilfred Bramble, with overly animated, gurning delivery, he ruined, for me, what should be a very special moment. Maybe the point is to place Mercutio in the spectrum of neurodiversity?
This performance also overshadows Tybalt (Will Edgerton) as the Prince of Cats who should be the more forceful of two combatants. Mercutio here is more clown than charmer.
What is thrilling about this production is the two principal actors, Rebekah Morrell as Juliet and Alfred Enoch as Romeo. The love and attraction connection between these two is believable and we want them to succeed. They both speak the verse really well so we can hear every word in this space, when at some time, because of columns, we will be unable to see who is speaking.
The ballroom scene is a delight with Juliet in ballerina tutu and rabbit mask (who wouldn’t fall in love with her?) and Romeo with a bear cub mask. They meet and disappear to come back in haste with the masks swapped. The musicians are onstage with the musical director Richard Henry playing the largest brass instrument, maybe a sousaphone.
Another slide tells us that, “Love is a matter of life and death for young people who don’t have a secure attachment to a guardian”. What follows is the balcony scene with Romeo on a ladder and Juliet on the upper level of the Globe’s back drop. Athletic Romeo will leap the 4 feet 6 inch stage in one jump. The lovers’ diction is superb.
As Romeo leaves to consult Friar Lawrence, a slide says, “The number of Youth clubs has halved since 2011. Young people have nowhere to go.”
Friar Lawrence’s cell looks like a piece of a modern garden centre with its tomatoes and herbs in pots on shelves.
The design by Jacob Hughes is very special. Mainly using a red, black and white colour wheel, the Capulets dress in silver for the ball with beautiful masks. Juliet wears a fashionable red tartan garment in life and a white wedding dress in death. Juliet’s bed is inviting, large and round with a copper base with black and white bedlinen.
The scene in the sepulchre has Juliet’s elaborate, open tomb covered in red and white flowers and the walls hung with flower festooned pictures of dead Tybalt and Mercutio.
A slide, “It is dangerous for women to go out alone” sees the nurse (Sirine Saba) laden with shopping bags mugged by the Montague gang. (Good product placement, Marks and Spencer!) Sirine Saba’s nurse is well played as only her insistence gets her message through to Romeo.
Raising a murmur in the audience, the slide “The rational part of a young person’s brain isn’t fully developed until age 25,” precedes the wedding scene. Red rose petals and a bubble machine decorate the air.
A violent fight sees Tybalt with a huge machete and Mercutio with chain and dagger but Romeo leaves Mercutio to die alone. Note no slide here about gang related deaths.
“75% of children with mental health problems are not receiving treatment.” This slide augurs Juliet threatening suicide. Two more slides, “Emotional neglect is a killer,” “The loss of one close to us is the main contributing factor to suicide.” After his daughter’s death, Capulet informs, “Suicide is a leading cause of death among all people aged under 35.”
Capulet wearing a gun harness shouts and you could hear a pin drop in the Globe’s large auditorium. He is shocking. “An only child is one too much,” he says. The patriarchy point is well made. Romeo is banishèd, Juliet sees the friar, takes the draught and is conveyed to her tomb. Romeo kills Paris with a crowbar, an iron crow.
Romeo takes poison and his death takes several realistic minutes of choking and spewing. Instead of the Globe’s usual celebration dance to close the play there is mournful song from the cast and then the Prince’s speech. There can be no coming together of Capulets and Montagues and here Romeo appears to be an orphan.
Ola Ince has provided an original and entertaining reading of Romeo and Juliet with much to discuss although I did find the slides more heavy handed than a subtle emphasis on Shakespeare’s text.
Romeo and Juliet
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ola Ince
Director: Ola Ince
Designer: Jacob Hughes
Choreographer: Aline David
Composer: Max Perriment
Fight Director: RC Annie Ltd
Running Time: One hour 50 minutes without an interval
Booking at The Globe to
17th October 2021
New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT
Phone: 020 7401 9919
Website: Shakespeare’s Globe
Rail/Tube: London Bridge
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Globe on 9th July 2021