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Theatre Review: Romeo & Juliet @ Greenwich Theatre

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Merely Theatre is a company founded in 2010, which focuses on creating five actor, gender-blind productions, for the most part exploring the works of Shakespeare.

In doing so, they tend to do away with costume, props and elaborate sets to drive their performances with ‘clarity’ – a word they’re keen to highlight.

If a production makes the decision to largely strip away the façade of conventional live performance, to rely on and emphasise the work of its actors, it should only do so with an iron-clad foundation: a foundation of in-depth study of the text, its requirements, and the characters they are breathing life into. Unfortunately, in Romeo & Juliet, they appear to be building on quicksand.

Actors dart around the stage speaking (and often shouting) lines at each other, before running off, to come back on as another character only moments later. It is hectic and disorganised; glaring mistakes in the staging of this work mean that many lines are delivered away from the audience, attempts at stage combat are simply that - attempts that never materialise into anything believable.

All of this aside, the most disappointing part of this production is the acting. Sections of the play seemed so unrehearsed that they might as well have been improvised. This is not to question the credentials of any actor on that stage, it is simply that the behemoth task that they have been set of playing multiple complex roles in such an environment has supressed any possible life and authenticity.

Choosing to do a stripped back production of a classical piece means that you only have one thing anchoring the play – the text. It is immensely rich, with so much to offer. However, each voice is the same, there is no distinctness, and no apparent consideration for meaning. It comes across as the third reading of a script in a drama class.

I do have to commend the actors for the incredible energy that they managed to sustain throughout; it is something that none of them let slip, which kept the production afloat before it could sink into being simply unwatchable.

The weak spots in this appear to be from a lack of vision and rehearsal. Whilst Merely Theatre are known for putting on five act tragedies after roughly eight rehearsals, it is no excuse, as I am certain a carefully edited and focused production of Romeo & Juliet could astound after so little rehearsal time.

This however, is a generalised production attempting to provide the play in an understandable state - which to its merit it does. Sadly, it rarely makes the leap from being simply understandable to anything beyond.

Merely Theatre will tour this production alongside Twelfth Night until June. You can find out more here.

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