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Stirring re-telling of Shakespeare's classic tragedy lacks feeling



Review by Oli Burley

SCRAWLED in chalk, several strides between the Globe and the Tate Modern, lie the words 'Love thy enemy', pulling eyes to the pavement.

The advice resonates now as it did in Shakespeare's time, but, like Romeo and Juliet - the first of three plays in the Season of Star-Crossed Lovers - it struggles to make a lasting impression.

It is not that Tim Carroll's version of the two young lovers and their struggle against the hatred between their families lacks fluency and verve - far from it.

The inventive opening street brawl and the high-octane sword fight between a strident Mercutio (James Garnon) and Tybalt (Simon Muller) are peaks in a work that is not shy to entertain.

Rather, it is the emotional dynamism between Romeo (Tom Burke) and Kananu Kirimi's Juliet that, in a play so dependent on feeling, comes up short.

Burke, in fact, is somewhat appealing as the oft-disheveled son of Montague, at his best when cock-sure and confrontational.

No 'flower of courtesy' would dare target Juliet so directly, yet Burke's passion is cooled by Kirimi's under-cooked manner.

There's no question she can play the part of Juliet, but, at times - particularly in her opening scenes - Kirimi does not seem part of the play.

As a result, the pair are not bound in authenticity by strength of feeling from the start, and their detachment is made all the more clear by the sparse Globe stage – whose uncluttered space is otherwise refreshing.

Kirimi does grow into her role as the tragedy builds towards its climax and the over-bearing influence of her nurse, camped-up by Betty Bourne, diminishes.

The trials of first love are initially distant as Bourne, together with John Paul Connolly’s effervescent Peter, style the play more in the mode of romantic comedy than tragedy.

Carroll does not deliberately seek an overtly upbeat mood, but by placing emphasis on the vagaries of fortune, brings freshness to a work that can be tarnished by over-familiarity.

John McEnery’s vividly anguished Friar Lawrence aids that process and highlights the important role of ‘confidante’ that is at the heart of so much of Shakespeare’s work.

The part of confessor-advisor is one that is explored further in the upcoming productions of Much Ado About Nothing (from May 23) and Measure for Measure (from June 18).

If nothing else, the likes of the nurse and Friar Lawrence remind us of the human instinct to help others – as good a reason to celebrate this play as the arrival of the new Globe season itself.

Our picture shows: Juliet (Kananu Kirimi) & Romeo (Tom Burke). Photo: Andy Bradshaw

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