Review: Romeo and Juliet (Creation Theatre)

The unstoppable Creation Theatre have been one of the highlights of digital theatre production during this fourteen months of uncertainty, and for their new show they return to the works of William Shakespeare.

Directed and adapted by Natasha Rickman, this Romeo and Juliet is probably their most accomplished show so far. When you book the show, you have to decide whose side you are on: Montague or Capulet. I chose the latter. Then you have the option on the night to interact with ‘Fate’ for a card reading before you enter the Zoom proper.

Over the course of two hours you experience a show which is almost overwhelming in scope and visuals. You first join in with others of your house, during which you can may a choice about viewing an extra scene, before leaving to rejoin another Zoom. This throws you straight into the house of the Capulets, pulsing with music, energy and intrigue.

A tip here, even if you have a poor connection, keep the website open from which you navigated to Zoom. You’ll need it to ‘join the party’. (It might have been helpful for a link to be provided in the chat of the first Zoom room, but it is a small point).

Selection of screencaps from Romeo and Juliet

From now until the pivotal murders which cause Romeo to be sent into exile, you stay on the Zoom call. I was unclear which scenes were only seen by ‘Capulets’ at this point as the participant number seemed to go up after the first sequence and then stay reasonably static. However, I felt the fast pace of the story was very effective.

A pop-up stating that breakout rooms were available led to nothing (perhaps random attendees are assigned to them?) and after a short five-minute break we left Zoom to follow the remaining half of the story via videos on a website.

The visuals were superb throughout the story, with a lot of overlays, exposures, and eye-popping colours. Two traditionally male characters became female – Friar Laurence was now Sister Lauren, and Benvolio became Romeo’s platonic chum.

Both these found themselves more complicit in the tale than was provided for in Shakespeare’s text, with actions which you had to concentrate to catch (this was the first adaptation I have seen which addressed what happened to the vial Juliet used to fake the appearance of death, for example).

Production image from Romeo and Juliet. Katy Stephens as Nurse, Annabelle Terry as Juliet.

In adapting the play, Rickman and the company made the choice to add in sections of other works by the Bard; notably A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet. Malvolio’s death and curse on ‘both your houses’ led to a ghostly appearance post-mortem, and the use of red to represent blood at the point of stabbings was well thought-out.

In terms of acting, I thought Annabelle Terry (Juliet), Katy Stephens (the Nurse), and Clare Humphrey (Sister Lauren) were especially excellent, with Kofi Dennis (Romeo), Dharmesh Patel (Mercutio), and Graeme Rose/Vera Chok (the Capulets) having their moments.

You may require a little pre-knowledge of the play to really become immersed in the action (there is no explanation, for example, for Rosaline), but it is not essential. Love stories, especially those which require teenage angst and passion, are universal.

Production image from Romeo and Juliet. Katy Stephens as Nurse, Annabelle Terry as Juliet, Vera Chok as Mrs Capulet

Utilising both Zoom and website videos highlighted the difference in sound balance between the two; the second half was far sharper. Also, I could not make out the lettering on the cards we saw at various points in the action, so ended up taking little notice of them.

Ultimately, Romeo and Juliet is a twisted tale of obsession and confrontation, which may or may not be resolved by the tragic ending. Here is a chance to get yourself as a viewer into the action to make some choices in the plot.

While truncating the text, the story remains easy to follow and very sharp; other modern productions have gone down the route of trying to modernise the text too literally, but this version mixes up the traditional and the contemporary to bring the play to life.

You can book in to view Creation’s Romeo and Juliet until 23 May – tickets here.