Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 29 April 2012
Although performed by the same company, Jessica Dromgoole's production of Romeo and Juliet was stylistically very different from Twelfth Night (broadcast a week earlier). In this world sounds assumed paramount importance - for example, the Spanish rhythms played on a guitar (by Roger Goula), that began the production and was heard at regular intervals - especially when Romeo (Trystan Gravelle) and Juliet (Vanessa Kirby) were together. This gave the production an atmospheric feel of hot weather and equally fierce passions, where love could quickly turn to hate and vice versa. 
At the same time director Dromgoole emphasized the naturalness of this world: the sounds of running water, bird-song and cheeping crickets regularly formed a backdrop to many of the scenes. However very few of the characters actually took much notice of their surroundings; they were too preoccupied with themselves and their emotions.
Such preoccupations inevitably led to tragedy: the deaths of Mercutio (Paul Ready), Tybalt (Carl Prekopp), Romeo, Juliet and Paris (Johnny Flynn) might have been avoided if the two families had been less preoccupied with their feuds and listened to one another instead. However this was never going to happen: the characters were almost doomed to die in this hostile world. Dromgoole suggested this through the use of voices that hummed in the background, rising to a crescendo whenever one of the younger characters met their untimely death. Not even the intervention of Prince Escalus (David Tennant in a vocally commanding cameo, vocally light-years away from his Malvolio in Twelfth Night) could bring about any solution.
In such a society, where death was almost inevitable, it was not surprising that the majority of the characters came across as emotionally immature. Capulet (James Lailey) refused to listen to his daughter's please, promising every kind of sadistic punishment imaginable if she refused to marry Paris, and smacking her across the face to prove his point. The Nurse (Rosie Cavaliero) did not seem much older than Juliet herself - although pretending to offer advice, she lacked sufficient life-experience to be of much help. Hence her decision to favour Paris, once Romeo had been banished.
Romeo could not deal with the emotional aspects of love; most of his speeches to Juliet were delivered in awkward tones, as if he had learned them out of a courtly love manual. He was far happier in Mercutio and Benvolio's (Adam James') company, where he could exchange laddish jokes and make fun of the Nurse's gawkiness. When Mercutio died, Romeo experienced a severe emotional crisis; many of his lines were shouted, almost gabbled; hence it was hardly surprising that he should choose to kill himself. Juliet acted according to her age; as a fourteen-year-old with little experience of the world, she had no real way of coping with the stresses and strains of love. Her suicide provided her with an emotional release; as she died, she breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The only mature character in the entire production was Friar Laurence (Ron Cook), who spoke in soft, reflective tones as he dealt calmly with Romeo and Juliet's difficulties. However he lacked the power to bring about a happy ending in this kind of a world; all he could do was to explain the situation and observe mournfully that "if aught in this/ Miscarried by my fault, let my old life/ Be sacrificed." At this moment we felt incredibly sorry him; if anyone didn't deserve to be sacrified in this brutal world, it was the Friar. We understood more than ever the significance of the Chorus's (Tracey Wiles') reference at the beginning of the production "the continuance of their (i.e. Romeo and Juliet's) parents' rage - / Which, but their children's end, none could remove."
At the end we felt that if only people had bothered to take more notice of one another, all these futile deaths could have been avoided. That was the real tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.