Life & Culture

Romeo and Juliet review: Radical adaptation with the pace of a thriller

Toheeb Jimoh and Isis Hainsworth excel as director Rebecca Frecknall brings air of street menace to story of star-crossed lovers


Romeo and Juliet
Almeida | ★★★★★

After reworking, rethinking and reimagining Cabaret, which over two years since it opened is still among the most sought-after tickets in the West End, director Rebecca Frecknall has turned her attention to Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy.

For my money the play is the Bard’s least interesting unless we are talking about the work it spawned by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim who turned it into West Side Story, for many the greatest musical ever created.

But this is a Romeo and Juliet like you have never seen. In two uninterrupted hours the plot spirals to its end with the pace of a thriller.

On its way the foot soldiers of Verona’s two warring families pull knives on each other like gangs on British streets.

It all kicks off when Jack Riddiford’s showboating Mercutio takes on Jyuddah Jaymes’s coiled Tybalt.

Frecknall has taken a leaf out of the musical the play inspired with dance sequences. They may not quite be Jerome Robbins but tightly drilled as they are they do a similar job in conveying the energy of a generation who fight for their work.

They move across the shadowy stage in unison, bound by a herd instinct. However, there is no safety in numbers in a city where knives are drawn over a diss or the wrong look.

As always with this tragedy, the director’s vision depends on the alchemy of the actors in the title roles. And here Ted Lasso’s immensely likeable Toheeb Jimoh and fellow rising star Isis Hainsworth convey the in-the-moment impulse of being a teenager driven by passion.

Yet it is Hainsworth’s Juliet that is the more complete performance. The doe-eyed adoration directed at Romeo shifts to a steely scepticism in the scene where, impatient at the speed of the whirlwind romanc, he asks how he might be satisfied.

Then, when they meet for the first time after peacenik Romeo has killed Tybalt (a moment of violence that vault’s the production into the present day) she launches a volley of punches at him before melting into his embrace.

The entire evening feels so radical that as the lovers barrel towards their fate there is a tantalising sense that perhaps this time they might just escape it. Miraculous.

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