Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on Hull Truck Theatre’s production of Romeo & Juliet at Stage@TheDock.
Stage@TheDock is the setting for Hull Truck’s production of Romeo & Juliet and it’s a beautiful backdrop for a timeless play. The open-air setting gives a sense of Italy, especially with the blistering weather we’ve been having.
When the characters complain about the hot Verona weather, it feels particularly apt, even with The Deep looming proud against the skyline. The Humber is part of the production’s scenery and it adds a sense of vitality and atmosphere to this much-performed play. There is something especially affecting in feeling dusk draw in around the play’s final moments.
This setting allows the production to have very little set, barring two sackcloth tents to shelter props and instruments from the waterside winds. The simplicity of Mark Babych’s staging lets the text shine brightly. Even with a comparatively small cast for this tragedy, the production feels in keeping with the true spirit of Shakespeare’s greatest love story. It is compact and dynamic in its expression of the tale. That said, I feel it is slightly confused conceptually. The 1950s design elements were beautiful, especially Siân Thomas’s expertly managed costumes, however, this setting seemed more of an aesthetic choice than a wider stylistic one.
It is remarkably difficult to make a play this much performed feel fresh and dynamic, something this production manages in flashes throughout the play. The balcony scene, for example, is simply inspired, making brilliant use of the space. The use of original music from Nicholas Goode is a wonderful and delicate indicator of mood, underscoring dialogue poignantly. I would have liked to see a heavier lean into that 50s setting in the music but its use in the show is effective nonetheless. All of the cogs of the production mesh perfectly together, it picks its audience up and carries us from start to finish.
A lot of this magic is produced by a chameleon-like cast who juggle multiple parts with ease and draw the audience carefully into the world of the play. Richard McIver as Mercutio (and as several other parts) is a particular highlight, he embodies all of his characters with humour and charm – a true joy to watch onstage. The matriarchs of the play, Amanda Gordon and Carolyn Backhouse, are extremely well-cast and well-acted. Gordon especially slips through several parts with ease and is an excellent foil, as the Nurse, to Laura Elsworthy’s Juliet.
At the head of this stunning ensemble are, of course, Romeo and Juliet themselves, Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy, the married couple playing Shakespeare’s most famous star-crossed lovers. Both actors are giving truly deft performances. Metcalfe’s Romeo is at points foppish, at others tragic and occasionally seems utterly alight with fervour. Across from him, Elsworthy is the beating heart of the production. Her comic turns are giddy in their brilliance and she aches with all of the complexities of Juliet.
All in all, this production is a fabulous night out at the theatre not to be missed. I would recommend bringing a blanket along for when the night starts to draw in, as that wind off the river can be quite chilly. Yet what could be better than watching one of the greatest plays ever written on a gorgeous summer evening, with a glass of the house wine and a blanket tucked over your legs? A production not to be missed.
Romeo & Juliet runs at Stage@TheDock in Hull’s Fruit Market until Saturday 7 August. Tickets are available here.
[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]