I might as well be running on ice as I skid on the wet tiles of Newcastle city centre. Just a hint of moisture leaves the ground unforgivingly slippery. I’m late for a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal and I look like a sweaty dog who’s been thrown through a jumble sale and forgotten he didn’t even know how to dress himself in the first place.
Unfortunately I’m two minutes late and the performance had already started. Instead, I’m sat down in the bar and told I’ll be let in in about 10 minutes or so. “We’ll get the telly out for you dear” a barlady tells me as she opens a cupboard that holds the kind of HD television that would have been impressive 10 years ago. Its live streaming the performance happening just behind the wall but with the sound so low you can barely hear it over tinkling of wine glasses and shuffling of chairs as more latecomers gather around the telly. I try to piece together my GCSE memories of Romeo and Juliet but it’s no use; without hearing the performance I can only guess at who is who.
its application is sharp and funny and not too eager to seem politically correct
But soon I’m let in and immediately hit by the stark beauty of the set. Metallic sheets drape around a giant cube on stage that acts as the centre for the play, twisted around during each scene to give each setting a fresh vitality. The entire production, in fact, has a dynamism that is essential for Shakespeare plays set in modern times. The knife wielding gangs of Verona feel bitingly close to home, regional accents are retained and traditionally male roles such as Escalus and Mercutio are played by women. This gives the play a dramatic urgency, without losing the poetic wonder of the original script; its application is sharp and funny and not too eager to seem politically correct. The effect is a brilliant balancing of the thin line between palatability and cultural blasphemy. We a firmly rooted in reality but dazed by the overwhelmingly poetic, funny and incomprehensible beautiful prose. But that’s why we love Shakespeare’s work so much. For all his flowery language and fantastical stories we’re left firmly rooted in a reality that we can all understand.