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Under-age love

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Forget the Montagues and Capulets. Forget throbbing Italianate passion. Director Adrian Noble takes the bold decision to centre his production squarely on the clash of youth and age. Never have the lovers appeared so young. Zubin Varla plays Romeo as a petulant, foot-stamping three-year-old. High-voiced and utterly self-centred, he even gets his bottom slapped by the Nurse for his naughty-boy tantrums.

Lucy Whybrow, in a performance of great promise, is like the impatient child she describes in her delightfully delivered "Gallop apace" speech. She hides under the bed cover to escape her father's wrath. Such child-like impetuosity of changeable moods makes sense of the few lines of her suicide.

Noble creates a beautifully lit, but cool and formal world. Montagues and Capulets are indistinguishable. There is no sense of a society racked by feuding mafiosi. Intriguingly, the costumes variously suggest a Ruritanian operetta and a Victorian country-house party complete with Lawrentian gamekeepers.

An oppressive adult world has obviously produced the children's buttoned up dependency. Juliet shows she has heard the Nurse's story ad nauseam.

Friar Lawrence is a stern finger-waging father substitute. The Capulets betray no hint of past matrimonial troubles, but are united against their daughter. The result is a production that challenges conventional expectations.

In repertoire. Runs just under 3 hrs. Tickets: 01789 295623.

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