It is a bizarre moment as loud laughter echoes in the audience when the cast break out in a musical-style dance to Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ during William Shakespeare’s ‘ Romeo and Juliet’ at Brockley Jack Theatre. It is re-designed by director James Tobias, the lead of Immersion Theatre, who seeks to transport the famous play within the context of the miners’ strike in England during 1984-85.
Immersion Theatre, established in 2010, has been focusing on re-working classics in a ‘fearless and distinctive’ way. The troupe’s goal is to provide the audience a different take on famous stories.
The director was inspired to set the play during that particular time because of the brutality and solidarity shown during the strike and has tried to string it together with the rivalries portrayed in the tragic love story. However, this bold idea makes it quite hard to understand what the director is trying to achieve, even though the names of the characters, the city, and the original story as a whole hasn’t been changed. Even the original Old English language is kept, which is hard to associate with its setting.
The re-imagination of the work apart from the occasional protest sign appearing on stage and the cast wearing eighties style clothing such as colourful jumpers and a lot of denim, makes you think whether it has only incorporated elements from the time or it is actually an appropriate adaptation.
The acting as a whole is delivered rather well. Fights, breakdowns, and effectively deaths are enacted admirably and produce real empathy and engagement within the viewer. The characters have been interpreted in a diverse light, with the actors bringing their own distinctive touch to them. Villains like Tybalt, the evil rival of Romeo, acquire human qualities, while ‘good’ people such as Romeo himself, demonstrate some unstable sides as well. The monologues are executed particularly well and draw the viewer into the character’s emotional experiences – sorrow because of lost love or losing a loved one to death.
Nevertheless, Tobias’ play successfully manages to combine subtle comedy, romance, and tragedy, taking the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster. The set is simplistic and shows two house-like constructions made of corrugated iron with wooden stairs. Its simplicity makes it really hard for the audience to lose focus, leaving it up to the actors to make the best out of their working space.
Overall, the production achieves its goal – a lighter way to enjoy Shakespeare’s play – therefore this lady doth not protest too much.