Romeo & Juliet played by Emilio Iannucci and Ella Dunlop

I knew Romeo & Juliet like the back of my hand, I’d seen it all before, and besides no one could eclipse Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes, so I was happy to pack it away in my subconscious with a large tick.

And then Shakespeare’s greatest love story was announced in the line-up at The Rose Theatre at Blenheim Palace this summer, and as the closing date loomed, I noticed an agitation, a growing need to itch the long dormant scratch.

the prize must go to a dazzling Juliet, played so spellbindingly by Ella Dunlop

I’m so glad I did, because it is a really excellent production, full of light and dark nuances as we are whirled off on Romeo and Juliet’s gripping journey through the highs and lows of first love, and their doomed fate.

Charlotte Graham Pictures

Verona suited the Rose Theatre’s get up, pretty window boxes, bright coloured costumes, lots of street banter as they would call it now.

Yes there was an undercurrent between the Capulets and the Montagues, but no more than you’d find on George Street on a Saturday night.

Romeo (Emilio Iannucci) is more buoyant and geekie than expected, less matinee idol than adolescent, and yet his energy and enthusiasm sweep you along through the early stages of the play.

Emilio Iannucci as Romeo

Personally, I felt there were sections that could have been removed – the dream sequence and the nurse’s long rambling soliloquies, but otherwise the production moved on at a cracking pace.

The casting was truly superb, each character swelling the tempo with laughter, menace, ridicule, terror and loss effortlessly; from the misguided priest Friar Laurence (James Bradwell) to the overbearing Lord Capulet (John Macaulay) and the quick-witted and amiable Benvolia (Doirrean May White. But the prize must go to a dazzling Juliet, played so spellbindingly by Ella Dunlop.

Images from Romeo & Juliet

Her Juliet was as bittersweet and encapsulating as I’ve seen. Tiny, beautiful and full of bewitching contradictions she was brave in love but terrified of her father’s wrath, willing to throw caution to the wind but fearful her love would be unreciprocated. Her mood swings and endlessly changing circumstances had us utterly enthralled, perfectly prescient for the addictive sting of first love and the emotive certainty of young lovers.

As we left afterwards I heard a little girl telling her mum why she’d loved it so much. “I’ve read it and watched the film, but here I could actually see their faces and their expressions. I felt I was right there with them, going through it together.”

Praise indeed, and in this Shakespeare-heavy school era, to not only enlighten a young audience but entertain and inspire at the same time is surely the point. 

Catch it before Thursday.

shakespearesrosetheatre.com

By Katherine MacAlister

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