Romeo and Julie
National Theatre, London, until April 1
It’s hard to imagine a play that is less like a kitchen sink drama than Romeo and Juliet, and yet that is how Gary Owen attempts to reimagine it in Romeo and Julie (you may well have seen what he just did there).
The first ten minutes has Romeo (Callum Scott Howells) brandishing a pair of badly soiled nappies after his baby defecates in her pram. He has been reimagined as a single parent struggling to look after his daughter with only his alcoholic mum (Catrin Aaron) on hand to offer some semi-conscious help every now and again.
Julie, the object of his affections, is meanwhile reimagined as a smart young girl about to become the first member of her family for generations to head off to university. It doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination – given the inspiration – to work out that things aren’t going to end well for these star-cross’d lovers and that’s really the problem.
All of this reimagining serves only to take away any sense of surprise about how it ends. It is also of course all but guaranteed to dismay anyone who cares at all about Shakespeare and what he originally wrote. The courting couples sitting around me – not unreasonably lured along by the promise of romance – certainly didn’t seem to find what the baby did in the opening scene a huge turn-on.
The sad thing is that, if we’d been allowed to judge it on own terms, Rachel O’Riordan’s production works perfectly well as a slice-of-life drama, and the acting – especially from Scott Howells, who is best known for the television series It’s a Sin, is of a high order.
I just don’t really see the point of involving Shakespeare in all of this, and, quite frankly, it really does take a peculiar kind of arrogance on the part of any writer to think he can rewrite this of all writers.