Mad blood is stirred

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, Mercury Theatre, Colchester until March 10WE all know Romeo and Juliet, don't we? One of Shakespeare's best-loved plays, with a plot familiar even to people who never go near a theatre.

Aidan Semmens

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, Mercury Theatre, Colchester until March 10

WE all know Romeo and Juliet, don't we? One of Shakespeare's best-loved plays, with a plot familiar even to people who never go near a theatre.

It's about young love, isn't it - sweet, romantic, lovey-dovey love. Er… no.


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It's about brawling in the streets, a deadly, pointless blood feud between families.

The key line in the play, even if it's not the best known, is Benvolio's: “Now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”

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That introduces the central scene, the street fight in which Tybalt kills Mercutio and is then killed by Romeo. But the madly stirred blood applies just as much to love as death.

And the roistering insanity has never been better brought out than by Ed Hughes's ground-breaking production at the Mercury.

Hughes had a long-held vision, which the ever-experimental Mercury company has enabled him to bring gloriously to life.

It was to unite an acting troupe with an Argentinian tango orchestra. And the result is an energetic, infectious show the like of which you have never seen before.

The tango band Astillero are never off-stage, at times driving the action along with their galloping music. At other times members of the group join or interrupt the action with a sardonic commentary.

But the whole thing moves at such a pace, and mostly at such volume, that their jocular asides provide welcome breathing-spaces.

Just as remarkable is the way the play is opened out to fill the whole theatre.

The famous scene in which Juliet speaks to Romeo from her balcony is made new by having him roam the auditorium while she delivers her part from a raised platform among the seating. Bringing the play into the audience brings the audience into the event.

With all this going on, the actors might have been swamped. That they aren't is down to some fine playing - especially from the young pair in the title roles.

The talented Gus Gallagher makes his first appearance in a hoody before revealing a Mohican crop which is entirely appropriate. His performance is loud, lively, moody - physically and volubly teenaged. Which is exactly as Romeo should be.

His Juliet is first seen - by him, and almost by us, as she has played her first scene with her back to us - dancing a tango so seductively you can see why he is instantly smitten. It's a shallow attraction, of course, but for once a credible one.

From there on, Maria Victoria Di Pace is the perfect Juliet. Na�ve, impressionable, romantic - and the only light of constancy in the play.

She brings out all the intelligence of the part, its nuances, light and shade. Which is some achievement amid all the noise and movement, in which her voice, like all the others, is raised nearly all the time.

Excellent support comes from Keith Dunphy as a thoughtful Friar and Ian Pirie, who plays Capulet as a kind of Glaswegian gangster boss.

Javier Alcina is a dancing, twirling Mercutio, whose red-lit Queen Mab speech is one of many highlights.

The fights are great, the music's great, even the lighting's something special. Just go, and you'll never think of Romeo and Juliet in the old lovey-dovey way again.

Aidan Semmens

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