Romeo & Juliet – Creation Theatre/Watford Palace Theatre

Written by William Shakespeare

Adapted and Directed by Natasha Rickman

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reinvention maintains the dignity and commercial viability of countless age-old tales, perhaps none more so than the works of William Shakespeare. After numerous retellings, adaptations, castings, and rejuvenation, it’s tremendously complex to reinvigorate the bard’s world beyond his original brilliance. Not for Creation Theatre, as they rise to challenge with gusto as they merge live theatre with the growing interest in interactive storytelling, allowing audiences to navigate 16th century Verona on their terms and to pick a side, either House Montague or Capulet under the watchful eye of Prince Escalus.

From here, fate takes an interest in this evening’s festivity, guiding audience members to make choices. The audience doesn’t get to interact too much, and at times a little more would have sold the production to a higher standing as the star-crossed lovers play out the original tale. Initially jarring, the visual palette of the film relies heavily on colour distortion to differentiate characters. At times, the screen can become overburdened with cast members, but there’s a hypnotic attraction to how Natasha Rickman utilises light and colour to further the story.

And as we launch headfirst into the neon dipped delights of the Capulet’s party, there’s an infusion of momentum and energy – the flickering lights and dance sequences draw life in a way Romeo & Juliet so rarely captures. It does overstay its welcome for a brief moment but bringing the audience back into the swing of things helps. Our initial votes for which drinks to have to introduce the elements of interactivity, and it’s just a shame the structure doesn’t allow for more direct interaction rather than button clicking. Easy to navigate, however, Creation Theatre has audiences dip between its chosen house calls to the Capulet ball and then into a choose-your-own-adventure structure.

Incorporating the digital format to its fullest, adaptor and director Rickman relies on a mixture of live theatre, pre-recorded segments, and audience interaction to draw out key, yet different, strengths from the original play and its cast. It enables an almost behind-the-scenes version of Romeo & Juliet, where the lives on the supporting cast are brought closer into the spotlight as we examine the branching paths and possible outcomes we would never have considered before. It enables cast members such as Clare Humphrey and Annabelle Terry the ability to demonstrate range and capability.

Unfortunately, this equally shines a potent light on the productions messier moments. On stage, the necessity of over-performances has its use to shatter the distance between audience and actor, but the proximity of the digital show brings us closer than ever before. As such performances can become too intense: Dharmesh Patel’s work as the Fortune Reader benefits from the mystique and playful nature, but Mercutio comes over as borderline comical and out of touch. The comedic nature within Romeo & Juliet exists despite its nature as Tragedy, usually sourced by the Nurse, a part Katy Stephens leans on a touch heavily.

As we shift from live theatre to pre-recordings, the attention dips somewhat as the intimacy of live performance is lost. And though this allows a more coherent sense of character development and direction, the captivating sense of liveness is sorely missed.

Innovative, if unable to push that extra mile, Creation Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet firmly grasps the bard’s text and convey its understanding. What suffers is the delivery, which has ripples of untapped brilliance in the interactivity, relying more on pre-recorded sequences than live theatre – the promise people are crying out for.

Available here until 23 May 2021


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