In Ellie Kendrick, director Dominic Dromgoole has found a Juliet who actually looks the age stated in the text: not yet 14. In fact, the actress, who was recently seen on our screens as Anne Frank, is on her gap year before university, but her fresh-faced looks and slight stature help her to inhabit the young teenager who embraces first love with a childlike excitement.
Her Romeo is Adetomiwa Edun, who displays all the passion of a young man transfixed by love at first sight and not yet old or experienced enough to be cynical about it, unlike Philip Cumbus’s swaggering, roguish Mercutio.
The joy of the couple’s infatuation with each other is countered by the sword fight – well staged by fight director Malcolm Ranson – which expresses the hostility between the two families. The clash between Ukweli Roach’s fiery, resentful Tybalt and the impetuous Mercutio is an overspill of the rage that has long simmered between the Capulets and the Montagues. Any hope that the loved-up Romeo can pacify the enemies is quickly dashed before he, too, becomes killer.
Tragedy is balanced by comedy from Penny Layden as Juliet’s nurse and accomplice, and Fergal McElherron in his scenes as the illiterate Peter.
Simon Daw’s design places a spiral staircase at the heart of an otherwise bare stage, creating the necessary balcony from which Juliet first declares her love, and later serving as the stairs down to the crypt where she lies in slumber, believed to be dead.
She is not, of course, until the hand of fate intervenes to bring the banished Romeo, unaware of her plot with the Friar, to her side. The tragedy that follows – here played somewhat simplistically by Kendrick and Adetomiwa – is made even more poignant given it provokes reconciliation between the warring families.
Nigel Hess’s music – played by a quintet on Elizabethan-style instruments – adds to the very traditional nature of Dromgoole’s production, an appropriate season opener for this still glorious reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe. If only the flight path above did not rudely remind audiences of the present day.