ROMEO AND JULIETat Shakespeare's Globe
Opera directors are used to controversy. To the point of audiences booing their work.
That would never happen at the Globe, of course.
With opera, experts say, you can always close your eyes. Whatever else is done to Traviata, or Meistersinger, the music survives more or less intact. Not so Shakespeare.
Daniel Kramer, Artistic Director of ENO, makes some radical choices in this, his first Shakespeare and the first show of Emma Rice's farewell season – The Summer of Love. The stage design suspends two black war-heads over the stage, with more black draping obscuring the musicians and the gallery for many in the audience.
The action emphasises violence and death. Civil brawls, black friars and funerals. Much of the text is delivered with a veneer of irony, or simply played for laughs. There is relentless extraneous business and in-your-face choreography; the bawdy badinage and phallic fun quickly wear thin. The music ranges from Keep Young and Beautiful  to Dinah Washington – This Bitter Earth, movingly performed – and Sinead O'Connor, substituted for the last pages of the play – the scene ends here with Juliet's “Let me die.” There is an underscore for much of the play, as is fashionable now at this address, after the manner of video-game music - quite discreet and effective, with MD Laura Moody on cello.
The actors generally speak the text well when allowed to do so: the Queen Mab speech – no irony, no underscore – a good example from Golda Rosheuvel's Mercutio. Microphones are used, but mainly to balance speech with music. Edward Hogg's Romeo delivers lines from amongst the groundlings with exemplary clarity. Like his Juliet – Kirsty Bushell – he comes across an ageing teen, with all the annoying mannerisms and little of the charm of an actual youth. Their wooing is frequently undermined by the laughs: “He jests at scars ...” is lost beneath the guffaw that greets some irrelevant business elsewhere.
Blythe Duff makes a fine Scottish nurse; Martina Laird a ridiculously overplayed Lady C. Friar Lawrence is a very ecumenical Friar, giggly and cuddly; Gareth Snook a violent Lord Capulet. “My fingers itch...” was cut, I think, since he had already rained kicks and blows in the general direction of his wayward child.
DMs and YMCA seem symptomatic of a certain stylistic laziness; Capulet's cur pees over the stage. The bed/tomb, centre stage for much of the piece, is a powerful symbol, though hardly original, and the use of overlapping scenes lends real pace and energy to the second half. But these are not enough to rescue a misconceived, self-indulgent interpretation of a play familiar to many. Hoping that this OTT pantomime will bring people to Shakespeare is like hoping that the Roly-Polys will bring a new audience to contemporary dance.