High drama and tension in a star-crossed classic

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Romeo and Juliet. By William Shakespeare. Theatre Vesturport. The Young Vic. Shakespeare's Ramp;J. The Splinter Group. The Arts Theatre.

Romeo and Juliet lends itself to all kinds of interpretation. Students who are reasonably familiar with the text will be intrigued by two unusual London productions.

At the Young Vic an acrobatic Icelandic company launch into their native tongue or swing on trapezes to express the extremity of passion. The script has been severely cut (but then, it is curtailed to some extent in any production) but most of the big moments are there and G!sli Orn Gar6arsson and N!na Dogg Filippusd"ttir as the star-cross'd lovers are affecting in the tragic scenes. G!sli, who also directs, describes the circus moments as being like a geyser erupting; repressed passion needs extraordinary means to express itself. G!sli has chosen to invest the authority of the prince in a child (a child who happens to be a gymnast). "All the adults have made mistakes; the child is impressive, pure, spiritual." Friar Lawrence is a bumbling ex-hippie and the Nurse is played by an overweight man. While enjoying the spectacle, students may consider what new light all this sheds on the text, whether it is permissible to view the play as a comedy which takes a tragic turn, whether the older generation can be seen as ludicrous in their lack of understanding of true feeling, whether Romeo is bent on self-destruction.

The American Shakespeare's Ramp;J tells the story through the eyes of four repressed adolescent schoolboys. Together they read the forbidden text (and import scraps of A Midsummer Night's Dream and a couple of sonnets), taking the parts as necessary. The sense of youthful discovery of lust and violence, and the frustration of youth with uncomprehending adults is all there, however, without any hint of drag show or gay drama.

In both productions, Romeo becomes a more decisive character than he sometimes seems. This is really Juliet's play; she is practical and often takes the initiative, while Romeo can be a dreamy boy, even a crybaby. Joe Calarco, director of Shakespeare's Ramp;J, acknowledges Juliet to be "a powerhouse", but says that, in his boys' school set-up he wanted Romeo to be "passionate, not dewy-eyed. He is a leader". An imaginative boy, this is his story.

Tickets: Young Vic Tel: 020 7928 6363Pack available: Arts TheatreTel: 020 7836 3334

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