Gone Rogue's foray into a professional venue shows real promise in its performances, but is hindered by some oversight in production.
At around two and a half hours, with a cast of 26, as well as the move up to a professional venue, Gone Rogue’s dreams of putting Romeo and Juliet with an amateur cast and team were always ambitious. With such a huge-scale production, there’s so much room for things to fall through the gaps and go wrong; and unfortunately, lapses like these detract from an otherwise enjoyable performance.
Standout performances come from Sarah Divall as Juliet, Amy Fitzgibbon as a fantastically watchable Nurse, Sam Dobson as Lord Capulet and Sevan Keoshgerian as an enthrallingly earnest Friar Lawrence. All four of these performers stand out as being perfectly at home with Shakespeare’s lyrical verse (where other cast members struggle to find any meaning in the words), and therefore are able to move past the challenge of the text to create developed, engaging characters.
Divall’s Juliet matures at a perfect pace – she’s young and flighty, but over the course of the play becomes the woman her circumstances force her to become. Her Nurse (Fitzgibbon) bounces perfectly off her; the relationship is genuine and enjoyable, and as a stand-alone Fitzgibbon gives the performance of the night. Her comic ability and commitment to the role are of professional standard – I could have happily watched an entire two-hour play about the Nurse alone.
Dobson creates a jovial Capulet in his opening scenes – which paves the way perfectly for his terrifying change to anger later in the play – as well as commanding the stage whenever he is on. Keoshgerian’s Friar is gentle and softly-spoken; he delivers the text gorgeously, and drives the latter half of the complicated plot with clarity.
Other members of the cast were less impressive, reducing the verse to an incomprehensible blur, meaning that some exposure of plot was entirely lost on the audience. Across the board, there was little consistency in acting style, even among the more accomplished actors – as if some cast members had been directed for an entirely different production of the text.
Praise should go to the directors (Jamie Hemingway, Sally White, and Joseph Curran) for having the sense to avoid an attempt at a modern adaptation. However, Hemingway’s claim that the controversial move of casting supporting roles Mercutio and Tybalt as female would be a “play on the concept of gender” was unfounded – the roles work well enough as females (and are expertly handled by Tara Gilmore and Anita Thomson respectively), but it was clear that little thought had been put into how this change would affect the dynamic of their social encounters – something that the team said they had wanted to focus on throughout the show. On a practical note, the sword-fighting was also incongruous, and it was clear that their traditional Renaissance costumes held them back during otherwise accomplished physical performances.
The decision to show Lady Montague’s (Ellie Blacklock) suicide was a brave one, and unfortunately was lazily executed – the insertion of the improvised scene was altogether ham-fisted, as the lack of dialogue (although perhaps a wise choice to avoid writing one’s own Shakespearian verse) was painfully obvious, and did almost as little justice to the character and Blacklock’s otherwise skilled performance as omitting the scene entirely would have done.
Technically, the production was flawed – I saw the opening night, and sound and lighting cues were all over the place throughout. The set, too, was remarkably amateur, which was only highlighted by the professional auditorium surrounding it. This, perhaps, was the downside of committing to a Renaissance period – although credit must go to the period costumes, which were consistently impressive.
It is easy to pick holes in a production that aims so high, and forget that it is enjoyable – and it was. The crowd scenes were full of energy and felt very genuine, and the divide between the Montagues and Capulets (led, as mentioned, by the wonderfully commanding Gilmore and Thomson) really drove the performance. Any lack of enjoyment stemmed purely from Shakespeare’s text – there are some scenes which really labour their point – it’s just a shame that the ball was dropped in a few places in what could have been an impressive string to Gone Rogue’s figurative bow.