South Bristol Voice Reviews: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is given a blend of the contemporary and Renaissance Verona in a lively Bristol Old Vic Theatre School production

Romeo, Taylor Uttley and Juliet, Tanvi Virmani

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Redgrave Theatre, Clifton, Bristol

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Clifton, where Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (BOVTS) students laid their scene, of the warring Capulets and Montagues to bury their parents’ strife in Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

The fate of the star-crossed lovers reminds us of how intolerance of our neighbours brings conflict, grief and death – and sadly all too late – eventual reconciliation.

Director Aaron Parsons gave the play a contemporary feel on Aldo Vázquez’s split-level set with a stunning mass dance sequence to illustrate the Capulet’s masked ball through Clare Fox’s brilliant choreography and the superbly staged mass knife fight scene directed by Jonathan Howell that opens the play.

Friar Laurence Patrick McAndrew, and Nurse Anna-Sophia Tutton

The tinder and gun powder was already laid for the explosive story but it is Chiara Lari’s straight talking Mercutio whose taunts spark the blood-letting that follows. Mercutio’s bating of Shivam Pallana’s portrayal of thin-skinned Tybalt ignites the narrative prompting Romeo (Taylor Uttley) to intervene with tragic consequences.

Tanvi Vermani had aged four years as Juliet from the original age of 14 to a more mature 18-year-old, but keeping the teenage angsts and hormones of one half of the titular characters. The sexual chemistry between the lovers seemed to grow as the story unfolded as their relationship built after a slightly cool start – perhaps from first night nerves – and so by the final scenes Vermani and Uttley were the grief-stricken lovers we expected.

Strong performances from Tom Mordell as Abraham and the Apothecary as well as Anna-Sophia Tutton as the nurse suggesting they both have plenty more in their thespian lockers to give. Alex Crook as Capulet, Ajani Cabey as Paris and Shivam Pallana as Tybalt projected their voices well in contrast to some of the cast whose voices at times were too quiet in the Redgrave’s auditorium.

The death of Mercutio. Mercutio Chiara Lari, Benvolio Josh Penrose

Josh Penrose as Benvolio was excellent value throughout as the voice of reason as was Rhea Norwood’s Petra Samson who sang beautifully and had real stage presence. And there was strong support from Patrick McAndrew as the Friar, Rebecca Hyde as Escalus and Victoria Hoyle as Montague.

The company are known for not just actors but designers of sets and their construction, plus lighting and sound – and so much more that goes on behind the scenes which mark out the school’s outstanding production values. In this vein special mention should also go to the costume designs supervised by Ruby Nex and Summer York, and the makers Maisie Higgins, Saskia Bath, Laetitia Gorget, Evie Akerman, Susie Pearce and Angelica Robinson along with assistants and dressers Bethany Boldero, Charly Riddett, Grace Green, Kim White, Arthur Wyatt, Elle Duncan, Jo Kenney, Shanice Dacres and costume design assistant Matthew Cassar. The costumes were exquisitely designed featuring a mix of the modern high street and symbolic Renaissance.

 A spirited production, perfect for students of the play and fans of Shakespeare in general and a reminder that the two hours’ traffic of BOVTS’s stage is much to do with hate, but more with love. 

Harry Mottram

The play runs to Friday 10th December 2021.

Tickets at https://www.oldvic.ac.uk/events-shows/romeo-and-juliet/

For more about the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School visit https://www.oldvic.ac.uk/

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Harry Mottram is the news editor of South Bristol Voice monthly magazine and a freelance journalist. Visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/

If you can’t make it there is another production by the Bristol Old Vic Young Company and Young SixSix of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Julia Head in January at the Bristol Old Vic in January. See https://bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/romeo-and-juliet