Sectarian Verona

17th March 1995 at 00:00
Romeo and Juliet, Solent People's Theatre.

Set in modern day Northern Ireland Mollie Guilfoyle's stunning production of Romeo and Juliet excises great chunks of Shakespeare's text, introduces a collection of 20th century Irish poems (some set to music), and gives each major character a specially written monologue placing him or her in the context of a divided Belfast.

The evening opens with a stylised "dance" of sectarian violence. The Catholic Juliet's proposed marriage to Paris is an alliance of political convenience. Shadowy figures stalk the periphery of the stage throughout, spying and eavesdropping on the action. And the crucial reality of the lives of thousands of young people growing up in the Province (even since the ceasefire) is neatly summed up by Juliet's celebrated lament "wherefore art thou Romeo?" This bold conjunction of cultures inevitably throws up certain anomalies. And of course some of the narrative complexity and subtlety of the original is lost. But the trade off is worth it. For what you gain is a searing poetic evocation of the great themes at the heart of the play - in particular of love and beauty tarnished by the hatred and inflexibility that surrounds them.

And against this background Ms Guilfoyle's spare uncompromising direction, and some splendid acting (with Anne Marie Cavanah in particular offering a remarkable, compelling, detailed performance as Juliet) provide the substance, passion and conviction needed to transform the controlling idea into engrossing human drama. The result is provocative, very moving, and ultimately profoundly chilling.

Touring until March 25. Details: 01703 443943. Runs 2 hours 35 mins.

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