The cast in The Gate’s hugely enjoyable production of Romeo and Juliet bare their bodies and stretch to dramatic extremes, says David Mullane.
Wayne Jordan is back at The Gate theatre with one of the Bard’s most familiar plays, giving us a fresh, youthful take on the beloved tragedy.
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, for certain, yet there is much wit and comedy, particularly in the first three acts of the play, and Jordan capitalises on this. With clear direction and vernacular detours from the script, he allows the play’s four-hundred-year-old humour to connect with a present-day audience, oftentimes undercutting or drily commenting on the play’s more extreme and dramatic moments. To this almost sardonic end, he is enabled greatly by Tom Lane’s wry and ironic musical moments, Catherine Fay’s bold costumes, Andrew and Ger Clancy’s extravagant headpieces and props, and some wonderful comic turns from the cast.
Romeo and Juliet can be played either chastely or libidinally, and one telling way to judge a production is by the passion of the lovers’ kissing. Jordan’s lovers go for it. There’s a pronounced physicality to the production as a whole, evidenced by the attractive, fit cast, the (at times, very) revealing costumes, and the bare-naked, muscular set. There are even two bodily explosions (I won’t spoil which type of bodily explosions) during the show, which hit the first few rows of seats – although this may have been caused by the nerves and over-enthusiasm of opening night.
The cast, as well as being beautiful, are a talented bunch, put through their paces by Jordan’s ambitious direction. The majority are up for the challenge, gamely baring their bodies and stretching to dramatic extremes. Ruth McGill as Nurse and John Doran as an ensemble member stand out as hilarious scene-stealers, McGill bringing an almost Mrs Doyle-esque quality to her role and Doran making the best of a small part.
It is a shame that Lauren Coe drops the ball a little as Juliet, particularly in her monologues. Her work with Fra Fee as Romeo, however, is stronger and they do have a winning charm, particularly in the famous balcony scene. Interestingly, Ciarán O’Melia’s set doesn’t feature a balcony and, instead, Jordan stages this scene with Romeo in the middle of the auditorium, the audience members in their seats becoming the trees of the Capulet orchard. While this may be seen as a theatrical deviance, it has been argued that the original play never featured a balcony and that the very word didn’t even exist in the English language until after Shakespeare’s death.
The play is reminiscent, both in its visual design and its tone, of Jordan’s 2014 staging of Twelfth Night at The Abbey, and this is not surprising as he has brought many of that play’s company with him to the Gate. If Romeo and Juliet is Jordan’s thirteenth night, I look forward to his fourteenth.
Romeo and Juliet runs at The Gate until May 16, booking here
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