This is a Romeo and Juliet for an audience who knows the plot, and also knows what the UK was like in 1981, from Margaret Thatcher to The Specials, and from Rock Against Racism to the fashion and music of the time. And yet, even in 2022, this new production at the intimate Southwark Playhouse (directed by Nicky Allpress) is as fresh as new.
The ’80s setting hits the audience right as they come into the theatre, as they are welcomed by the chaos and noise of a Brixton public house – the contrast with the isolation and sterility of omicron times is particularly striking, but not unwelcome. The minimal set design (Anisha Fields), complements stunning projections (Laura Salmi) on the flat surface of the backdrop, transforming the space seamlessly into a teenager’s room, a pub, a house party.
A cast of three men and three women somehow manage to convey the entirety of Verona and its most infamous feuding families. For a tragedy, there’s plenty of moments of hilarity, peaking especially when the Nurse (Amy Loughton) or Friar Laurence (Yinka Awoni) appear on stage. Delivering Shakespearian lines in different accents, from Northerner to Nigerian, with a sprinkle of modernity (Romeo is sent to Basingstoke in exile), gives the play additional ingenuity.
Imbued with freshness and sincerity, this production reminds us that Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy really is a wonderful story of love, fear, and loss, told with good-natured humour and soulful intensity.
Playing 12 January – 5 February 2022 at the Southwark Playhouse in Elephant & Castle.