Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a play that has been revisited so many times since its publication. There always seems to be a production, especially at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Ola Ince’s production, which stars Alfred Enoch and Rebekah Murrell, takes an interesting twist on the classic romance.
This unconventional, anti-romance production is unique in so many ways. One quite refreshing aspect of this is the interracial cast – race isn’t an issue. Ola Ince, the director, has said that she wants her casting to reflect what London looks like. Obviously wary of race and how it impacts these people’s experiences of mental health, Ince didn’t set out to cast a black or mixed-race Romeo and Juliet. But wanted the production to be about real people with real-life struggles. Both the protagonists, Alfred and Rebekah give brilliant performances. Demonstrating to the audience how sick and twisted this love story really is. You believe in them as young teenagers and the suicide scene is particularly raw. One standout performance is from Adam Gillen, who plays Mercutio. Sirine Saba is also fantastic as Nurse, neurotic but also comedic and warm.
The Theme of Mental Health
Something that stands out in particular with this version of the world-famous play is the reminder of the key themes. Often, Romeo and Juliet is a glorified love story that we should admire. This self-aware production disregards that, reminding the audience of the gang violence, the mental struggles and trauma young people face, and the disillusionment. We are told that 20% of teenagers experience depression before they reach adulthood. We are also told that the rational part of a young person’s brain is not properly developed until the age of 25. Patriarchy is a system in which men hold the power. The statistics on suicide and trauma are almost ironic when looking at how this play is usually presented – especially when the fatal scene is shown with no heartfelt moment. As an audience, we feel disgust and are repelled by this act.
A Tragic ‘Love Story’
An interesting take on this ‘love story’, the two protagonists don’t even share a kiss. But the connection between the two is clear, which is kudos to Alfred and Rebekah. As audiences, we see this truly tragic love story between lovers who deserve more.
However, this production demonstrates to us that this type of story is almost insulting. Romeo and Juliet are teenagers in love. Teenagers, who are giddy and excited. Teenagers, who don’t really understand the consequences. Who don’t receive any support from their family. They are tragic, not because of the love story but because of their demise. You almost feel a slight shame if you ever glamorised this apparent love story yourself. This isn’t something to admire. The love story quite possibly isn’t even the main theme of this production. Ola Ince wanted to focus on mental health. And that she did.