Photo credit Marc Brenner
Walking into the wooded stands of The Shakespeare’s Globe, aside from a little extra spacing and the lack of a standing audience, it was almost as if nothing had changed. The Globe’s new version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had clearly taken the lessons from the last year, in an attempt to provide something new, as the revised script allowed for a heightened focus on mental health.
This contemporary exploration of Romeo and Juliet saw Romeo riding around the stage on his BMX, Mercutio puffing on a vape and party scenes soundtracked by Mike Skinner’s ‘Who’s got the bag?’. This helped the play’s relatability, but also successfully divided the Montagues and Capulets by class and character. The fight scenes took on a new significance as they stabbed one another in their tracksuits, the audience were reminded of the rise in London knife crime amongst teenage boys. The red and black costume colour theme brought a cohesiveness to the costume design, as Juliet often wore an oversized red hoodie with tartan pocket and matching hair band, while Romeo wore an all black tracksuit with small details of red. The most unique aspect of the show came from the interjecting statistics around mental health and race, which after the last year of lockdowns and #BLM felt especially poignant. The show closed with details for the Samaritans, displayed in red on the stage screen.
The stand out performance from the show came from Alfred Enoch, who played Romeo, as he successfully performed the Shakespearean language in a way that was believable and relatable as well as achieving a compelling emotional performance. The downsides of the show came mostly from the draw backs of the staging – occasionally speech is lot in the open space and unless you are lucky enough to be face on, you are probably going to miss some of the action. The set and prop design was basic, but these are all things we sign up for in the name of tradition and therefore, I don’t think can fairly be criticised. I found that despite excellent performance’s from both, the speeches from Adam Gillen (Mercutio) and Zoe West (Benvolio) often lacked the same clarity as Enoch’s and huge chunks of script were lost. On the whole I have very little complain about the show, apart from the fact that I think they could’ve pushed the contemporary adaptation further, maybe to include social media or a discussion of race, to give us something more revolutionary.
I found this version of Romeo and Juliet poignant progressive and fun, with strong performances and witty staging choices.
Photo credit: The Gay Times
My second show since return of the theatre, Death Drop, was a contrast in style and talent, to the first.
Death Drop is best described as a fun Dragatha Christie, starring Drag Race royalty: Latrice Royale and Willam. The show depicts a group of fictional z list celebrities, played by drag queens and kings, attending a ten year anniversary dinner for Charles and Diana (whom they assume will be attending), hosted by a woman they’ve mysteriously never heard of. However, not long into their evening the death of the first attendee raises suspicions about their invite to the house. As the plot probably suggests, the show is stupid at its core. It pokes fun at the inadequacies of theatre in all the ways we know how, from farcical multi-role play to comedic uses of special effects. If drag is your bag, and you don’t mind a lot of cheesy humour and average acting, then this is the show for you.
It goes without saying that unless you are a fan of Drag Race or drag more broadly, this show probably isn’t worth your time. However, I was pleasantly surprised that both Latrice Royale and Willam proved themselves as more than just names to pull in the crowds. Willam’s vocals were impressive; she felt fitting to the West-End stage, while Latrice had a good stage presence. These were not the only drag royals of the show, Myra Dubois, who played the show’s host, was a semi-finalist in Britain’s Got Talent 2020, while LoUis CYfer who played ‘Rich Whiteman’ was the first drag king to win Drag Idol UK. The cast were definitely the highlight of the show, as a group of drag performers at the top of their game.
Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much I loved about the show outside of the drag. Contrary to The Gay Times suggestion that the writing was ‘exactly the tonic we needed’, I think the cast were let down by an overly simplistic script, which at times felt like it had just given up on finding ways to captivate the audience, or even be comedic. The best aspects of the script came in the form of lampooning patriarchy, which was held together brilliantly by the physical comedy of the drag kings. Elements of multi-role play were also used well, such as the triplets performed by the same actor, under the pretence that the ‘real’ actors had food poisoning. However, in places it all felt a bit GCSE drama, with tongue twisters like ‘Peter piper picked a pepper’ forming about five minutes of the second act, and jokes around delayed sound queues that became boring. Even the deaths became unimaginative, as at some point they switched from mystery black outs to an out of place ninja in lycra. In short, the comedy often lacked wit. I wasn’t expecting top quality theatre, I was just disappointed that I wasn’t proven wrong. I had hoped at the very least the set design would help explain the far from cheap ticket prices. In true murder mystery fashion, there was just one set throughout. Yet, it was predictable in style and appeared inexpensive compared with other West-End shows.
This is not to suggest that I didn’t find the show enjoyable, I did, however, I think it would’ve been best kept as a drag show, rather than theatre.
The musical that doesn’t feel like one.
Accompanying my mum to Girl from the North Country on the basis that it ‘has Bob Dylan music in it’, I had no preconceptions as to what it would be like and even though I knew it had been well received, I was taken aback by the ingenuity of the piece. GFTNC is categorised as a musical so predictably music is a central component, however it felt more like a kitchen sink drama come concert in comparison to thoroughgoing musicals such as Come From Away. Set in an American guesthouse in 1934, the play concerns itself with family issues; infidelity, illness and finance consume the plot. Within this the music acts as a kind of melancholic soundtrack, distinct from yet descriptive of the scenes. The most thorough performance came from Katie Brayben who played Elizabeth Laine, the mentally ill wife of the house owner. She convincingly inhabited the illness both in its comedic and frightening moments. Gloria Obianyo who played Marianne stood out as the best vocalist, as her soulful voice was more like a blues artist than your typical west-end performer.
The Set Design reflected its genre.
The design of the set was both naturalistic and abstract. The band was present throughout the show positioned upstage right, always in view but separate from the scenes amplifying the intrusion of the music into what, in terms of writing, could have been an ordinary play. A piano, downstage right appeared naturalistic and was used throughout the scenes mostly by Elizabeth while a drum kit, downstage left was visually out of place and was used solely as an instrument throughout the songs. It too was played by the actors (rather than members of the band) but this only brought you further away from the action, as it was so unusual to see members of the cast featuring in the musicianship. Similarly, ordinary guest house furniture such as a table and chairs and a kitchen sink were in keeping with the naturalistic script, however the spacing gave it an abstract feel as elements of the set, such as the sink, were rarely interacted with and acted more as ornaments. The most unique thing about the set, however, was the large screen revealed a third of the way into the production, which displayed an image of the nearby lake. It is unclear if this was supposed to be a modernistic representation of a window but as it was only introduced later in the production and occasionally it would show a laneway rather than the lake, I assume not. I think the purpose was to enable you to grasp the setting in a way which was going to juxtapose the naturalism, to distance you further from the scenes but more than that its purpose was to provide a backlight so that during the vocal numbers, members of the cast could stand close to screen and be mere silhouettes. It was thrilling to watch.
A genius piece so much more than an ode to Bob Dylan.