Adaptations and spin-offs from Shakespeare’s work are certainly nothing new, over the years they have taken many forms. Some have breathed new life into the works by exploring events alluded to but never seen. Others update and re-set the action, captivating new audiences. Rachel Garnet’s Starcrossed uses Romeo & Juliet as a springboard to tell a new tale of forbidden romance, writes Christopher Peacock.
Originally produced as part of FringeNYC back in 2018, Starcrossed re-ties the ill-fated love lines between the two houses around Mercutio and Tybalt. The selection of these two to create a new romance is interesting; the outgoing Mercutio, who is not blood bound to the house of Montague makes sense, whereas, Tybalt, being the most cynical and vengeful of the Capulets, is a side step from the character originally found on the page. It is here where Garnet’s adaptation shines. Giving more emotional depth to these two and by mixing in new characters and exploring new relationships, their motives and desires become clearer.
Tommy Sim’aan’s Tybalt is played close to what we would recognise from productions of Romeo & Juliet, yet Connor Delves’ Mercutio gives a more modern, lighter performance. The rest of the show is held together with Gethin Alderman as The Player, giving life to the many other characters and playing them all for laughs.
Harry Blake’s subtle sound design helps change location in Ruari Murchison’s pared-back set. Only the odd moments of freeze-frame, allowing for soliloquies and asides, bluntly punctuate the emotional moments, cheapening what is otherwise a very slick production.
As a three-hander, the performances all work well together and the blend of Shakespeare’s words and new writing is refreshing – Garnet does well in matching the style of the bard. Where it does not work as well is with the more famous and quotable lines. With every alteration a knowing groan ran around the old music hall. A smug, knowing laugh could be confusing for those not well-versed in the bard.
There are certainly lots of laughs to be had, which may feel a touch at odds considering that this is adapted from one of the most famous of tragedies. However, what Garnet does manage with Starcrossed is to shift lots of the tragedy of the source material to focus on another tragedy, namely that for many years, and still in some parts of the world, LGBTQ+ love is as forbidden as the love between a Montague and a Capulet.
Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB until 25th June. Times: Monday – Saturday at 7 30pm; Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm. Admission: From £15.
Booking: http://www.wiltons.org.uk/ – 020 7702 2789