The story of Romeo & Juliet is the most famous love story ever told, but it hasn’t ever been done quite like the production running at Regents Park Open Air Theatre in London.
The original Romeo and Juliet was written in the 16th century by legendary English playwright and poet William Shakespeare and first debuted on stage in 1597. It has become one of the most beloved stories of all time and has been told and retold countless times across various media. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has never heard of it anywhere in the world.
Since that original stage production, there have been more than 40 direct film adaptations, including several major Hollywood blockbusters such as the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film titled Romeo – Juliet starring a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
There are even multiple versions of the stage play, including the 2019 West End production & Juliet, which unpacks what the story would have happened if Juliet did not die at the end. There have been video games based on the story, such as 2011’s The Chronicles of Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet, and there is even a Romeo and Juliet slot game at some online casino sites, such as LeoVegas.
However, none of them has been quite like the stage production on the go at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, which chooses to focus very strongly on the fact that Romeo and Juliet were just teenagers. This is a fact that has been glossed over for many years, but no longer.
Even in the film starring a 21-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio, the pair came across far older and wiser than they had any right to be as star-crossed lovers with no time for common sense or anything else.
Originally written over 400 years ago in Victorian England, it has been a constant struggle for scriptwriters to modernise the language to keep the show interesting and relevant for modern audiences while also maintaining the essence of the source material. The fact that Romeo and Juliet were so young seems to have been lost along the way, but no longer.
This version was written directed by Kimberley Sykes of Royal Shakespeare Company fame and tackles these issues head-on. No longer are Romeo and Juliet over romanticised or over-sexualised. Now, they are teenagers; pure emotional, brash, immature and reckless teenagers.
Juliet, played by the lovely Isabel Adomakoh, in particular, is an absolute whirlwind of emotions whose entire world revolves around her burgeoning relationship with Romeo. For his part, Romeo brings all of the broodings and complaining you would expect from a teenage boy (Joel MacCormack).
While the leading pair is excellent, the supporting cast makes this production worth seeing. Cavan Clarke does a phenomenal job of portraying a charming and arrogant Mercutio, and the show is elevated to the next level every time he steps on stage. The impact of his eventual death is all the more emotional for it.
There is also a strong focus on the setting and the impact the story and characters have on the world around them. The stage is gorgeous, with a huge crack running down the concrete in the middle to symbolise the breaking society. There is also a thunderous cracking sound every time a character dies, signifying the world being pulled further apart.
The production comes with the distinct feeling that the players on stage are not to blame for any of the traumas and drama that unfolds and that they are merely unwitting pawns in a situation they are helpless to resolve. It is unsettling and genius at the same time.