Romeo and Julie ★★★ National Theatre | Feb 14 - Apr 1, 2023

Unlike Shakespeare's teenage lovers separated by feuding families, this young couple are divided by their educational opportunities and potential for social mobility. In this version, Romeo has left school and is trying to raise a child while living at home with an alcoholic mother. He is kind and loving, but not overly bright or ambitious. Julie, on the other hand, is a good student who has a place at Cambridge and who aspires to be a physicist working on the Theory of Everything. She carries the aspirations of her parents, while he deals with challenges of a bleak home environment in which he is acting as a single parent. The only things that this narrative has in common with its Shakespearean counterpart is its title and the fact that it deals with a blighted romance. Unfortunately, for us, the relationship between the two principals remained unconvincing, moving too quickly from a bit of banter in a café to infatuation. Julie's transition from ambitious self-controlled student whose career is written in the stars to enamoured adolescent willing to sacrifice that future just didn't ring true. Rosie Sheehy does a fine job of creating her character, but we felt her strongest scene was that with Kath, her practical stepmother, convincingly played by Anita Reynolds. Callum Scott Howells takes on the challenging task of playing the well-meaning, but not too sharp, Romeo. Playing not particularly intelligent is always a hard test for an actor, and in this case Howells is rather upstaged by Catrin Aaron's flawless rendition of his intemperate, manipulative mother. Romeo and Julie is an affecting commentary on the class system and on the difficult choices thrust upon young people, but its power ultimately depends on the audience taking to heart its depiction of doomed young love.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner.

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