Bristol Bierkeller Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet
Lennox Cole reviews Romeo and Juliet at the Bristol Bierkeller Theatre, playing until 23 February
What an exciting evening!
First, a word about the venue: the Bierkeller is a new theatre space for Bristol and I entered with curiosity. There was a friendly greeting at the box office and the smell of incense wafted me up the grand staircase. At the top of the stairs was the bar and seating area, decked out with gothic grungy benches in an open V formation, magnificent iron chandelier and a splash of colour from the very much needed blood red cushions. I liked it instantly.
The Thrice Three Muses production set Shakespeare's tragic love story against a blank, minimalist canvas and in the modern world. No flashy scenery or elaborate costumes to detract from the intensity of the passion and inevitable, blood-soaked climax could have made for a bleak interpretation but the company played up the comedic elements of the play to good effect and allowed us some relief.
Presenting Romeo and Juliet as a gay couple worked well enough-after all love is love, no matter what gender the lovers-and Jasmine Smart and Maia Ayling were perfectly cast in the title roles. Jasmine Smart brought passion and longing to her every word whilst keeping her street-smart, feisty persona and Maia Ayling played the girl on the verge of womanhood with a splash of brattishness, perfectly pitched as young teens in their grand passion.
Stand out performances for me were Janet Adams- her Nurse a cross between Nursey from Blackadder and Mrs Doyle from Father Ted-and Tom Hatherley as Friar Lawrence, bringing maturity and the gift of underplaying. Callum Buckler had maybe a touch too much enthusiasm for his Mercutio, who seemed unable to keep still for even a moment, but I appreciated his vigour and Tom Hunt's menacing arrogance as Tybalt was spot on, with superb body language.
Credit should also be given to tech guy Robin Peters for singlehanded sound, light and hosting duties, all achieved seemingly effortlessly.
Overall I loved Ben Hughes-Games' direction. The cast made excellent use of the space and involved the audience appropriately, the nods to the gay community were not statement makingly political but sympathetic and fun and the feel of the play was rounded and complete. The lighthearted beginning contrasted beautifully with the tension and darkness of the end and I took away a feeling of renewed love for the classic tale.
I confess I had forgotten quite how long Romeo and Juliet is and was extremely glad of the cushions provided, nevertheless, as we emerged at 11.50 after doors had opened at 7.30, my back had given up and I could barely walk. Backless benches are perhaps not quite ideal for long performances! I also became very cold and half way through I had to put my coat on and I noticed others doing the same. I do hope the Bierkeller Theatre can address these issues as it is on the verge of being a great venue and I would love to see it continue to attract high calibre productions such as tonight's delight.
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