When I first read Romeo and Juliet, I found little in the play that I could relate to – marrying a boy you met 24 hours ago seemed like utter madness to my teenage self! I think that my initial reaction has shaped my feelings about this epic story ever since; I have tended to steer clear of productions and refuse to watch the Baz Luhrmann film. And yet, I was attracted to Squidink’s show – an all female Romeo and Juliet set in HM Prison Verona, inspired by a real-life production of the play which was organised by Acción Interna in El Buen Pasor women’s prison in Colombia. This is not the Romeo and Juliet that audiences are familiar with – this is a tragedy for the modern age: fresh, exciting and imbued with new meaning.
I almost can’t believe that Romeo and Juliet has not been produced in the setting of a women’s prison before, because it works perfectly for fostering a sense of claustrophobia which mirrors the intensity of the original play. All too familiar words seemed to take on a new life in this setting of barbed wire and bunk-beds. There was also something satisfying about watching an almost entirely female cast take on the play, since it would have been exclusively performed by men on its first showing. The production is brimming with strong female characters.
The cast were brilliant and every single one of them could be singled out for their great performances. Performing Shakespeare is tough as the language is so far removed from our own, but the cast of this production carried it off with an admirable confidence. Lorelei Piper (Romeo) and Emelye Moulton (Juliet) were the stars of the show, and they perfectly captured the innocence and naivety of young love. Piper was fresh faced and youthful but also conveyed Romeo’s tortured anguish. In the second act, Moulton’s Juliet had a sense of confidence and strength that I had not previously associated with the character, but showed Juliet in a brilliant new light. I must also mention the strong performances given by Lucy Mcllgorm as Mercutio and Imogen Edwards-Lawrence as Capulet – both women dominated whenever they were on stage and I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
Sound and lighting design were an integral part of the show and helped to create an atmosphere of intensity. This was particularly evident in the masked ball scene – it was unlike any masquerade I had ever seen, but there was a sense of debauchery in the air which proved irresistible to watch. There were parts of the production that were a little rough around the edges (and I’m not really sure how Romeo’s return from banishment works in a prison setting) – but these criticisms are fairly insignificant considering what the show achieves.
I think the greatest challenge that comes with directing a Shakespeare play is to convert the sceptics – those like me who thought Shakespeare was antiquated and not for them. This production of Romeo and Juliet, however, left me wanting more – it will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. This show deserves to sell out for the remainder of its run, so I would would highly recommend getting your tickets now.