By holding it’s press night of Romeo and Juliet online on the evening before the resumption of in-person theatre performances it feels as if Creation (www.creationtheatre.co.uk) is throwing down a marker. The company is right to remind that digital performance-- of which they have been such champions over the last year-- is here to stay, and that companies are going to continue to experiment with different means of distribution and exploring the creative possibilities of theatre, screens, and audience interaction.
In the circumstances it’s a shame that Romeo and Juliet is not one of the company’s most successful productions, even though it comes with the nifty idea that splits the audience into either Capulets or Montagues and therefore primarily follow the story from that perspective. In the final part of the show, we get to make choices that appear to give us agency even if it doesn’t really put us at the heart of the action as claimed. It just changes the sequence in which we see the action. We can’t really alter the outcome of this doomed love affair. The cards have already decided their fate.
There are some nice moments. I enjoyed Graeme Rose’s Capulet, who has the air of a Saturday night TV host on the make and Sebastian Capitan Viveros’s snaky full-of-himself Tybalt. But while, albeit on far greater resources, the NT’s Sky Arts production of Romeo and Juliet solved the issue of social distancing and the cast being unable to get up close and personal in a way that heightened the eroticism, here the connection between characters is lost because it is all too obvious that they are separate and alone.
There is quite a lot of people acting energetically to themselves. When Romeo (Kofi Dennis) first glimpses Juliet (Annabelle Terry) at the ball he peers at her as if examining a pimple in the mirror. Mercutio’s (Dharmesh Patel) death just looks plain odd because neither Romeo nor Benvolio (Harmony Rose Bremner) go to his aid. You just long for the stars to align so these young actors could get a crack at the roles in less limiting circumstances.
There are some odd touches—at times it feels as if Puck has accidently wandered in from A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and the use of colouring makes the Capulet’s story quite visually noisy. But it wouldn’t matter so much if the storytelling in Natasha Rickman’s production had a sharper focus and more clarity. Unless you get that right it can make everything else seem like mere gimmickry.
I very much admire Creation for the way they have embraced digital and experimented over the last year. Romeo and Juliet is an honourable failure. There is as much to be learned from that as from previous successes. Unlike these doomed lovers, they will rise again.
You can stream Romeo & Juliet online until Sun 23 May. Tickets here.