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Fated lovers' tragic tale has resonance today

Romeo and Juliet, Albany Theatre, Coventry, until March 30. It’s not the Bard’s best work; not by a long way. Yet the story of the “star-crossed lovers” remains perhaps the most enduring romance of all time, captivating one generation after another. The generation gap was much in evidence on Thursday evening as those of us old enough to remember Zefirelli’s magical film of 1968 were far outnumbered by school students seeing the work performed professionally for the first time. Few seemed to be distracted by their phones and quite a few whooped with appreciation as the cast took their final bow. Unlike Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film or Rupert Goold’s zapped-up RSC production of 2010, there was no attempt to make play relevant to today. It remains relevant anyway at time when knife crime is prevalent and irrational hatreds throw up barriers to love. Still, the touring National Production Company evidently rejected the temptation to go for modern dress. Instead director James Tanton decided to “throw aside the ruffs and rapiers of Tudor times in favour of the broadswords and chainmail of the murky Middle Ages”. Tanton not only directs but plays a robustly rude and boisterously full-voiced Mercutio – a part that, like “summer’s lease” has “all too short a date”. Tybalt’s blade sees to that.

“A plague on both your houses,” Mercutio’s memorable final line, could well be the mantra of the exasperated Prince, another role that Tanton takes on almost without pause for breath. Christine Harte is a splendidly authoritative “Lady” Capulet, her vicious insistence about the man that her daughter must marry a marked contrast with her diffidence in the final scene when she reaches out to the Montagues. Rather too late, alas. The stage is strewn with bodies by then. Juliet’s nurse is engagingly played by Kelly Hale, combining real motherly tenderness with a naughtiness that suggests that her much-cherished “maidenhead” was lost some years previously. As for the main characters, Ashleigh Dickinson seductively suggests an innocent impetuousness as Juliet. And Samuel Wall as Romeo switches from love-struck goofiness to skilled swordsmanship with impressive speed. Some of his more memorable lines did not always reach Row K with the expected resonance. Not on Thursday evening anyway. Maybe that had more to do with the acoustics than with projection. Overall: not the best production of R and J that this seasoned audience member has ever clapped eyes and ears on. But not the worst either. Not by a long way.

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