Review: Romeo and Juliet at Theatre Space North East

Review: Romeo and Juliet at Theatre Space North East

Romeo and Juliet – Theatre Space North East

17Nineteen, Sunderland

14th July 2023

Another new venue for me and this one has a very interesting history. 17Nineteen named after the year in which it was built is a former church which has been converted into a community cultural hub by, among others, Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. The venue opened in autumn 2021 and the completion of the project has earned it awards including RIBA Building of the Year (North East) Conservation Award 2023. It is a very impressive and atmospheric venue in which to perform theatre. 

Arguably Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy is the story of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet which was performed in this imposing venue this evening by Theatre Space North East with support from Play On Shakespeare and additional support from Arts Council England, The Barbour Foundation,and the venue itself. 

Romeo (Harry Brierley) is something of a lothario at the start of the play and casts his net far and wide to find his true love. He finds her in the form of Juliet (Emily Tinkler) with whom is becomes instantly infatuated despite the fact that she is the daughter of his own family’s sworn enemy. Things start getting complicated from this point onwards. The opening of this play describes the Montagues and Capulets as ‘Two Households – both alike in dignity’ but in this version the two households are anything but dignified with themes of wife beating, drug taking and a mother rarely out of her slippers setting the tone. 

The enmity between the factions is shown from the start with a fight breaking out between the two and knives drawn to show that they really do not like each other very much at all. 

The fight director (Lawrence Neale) does a very good job with the fight scenes which are all very realistic and occasionally cause gasps from the audience as they play out. Jamie Brown is suitably menacing as the rather violent and uncompromising Tybalt and there is a great sense of camaraderie between Romeo, Benvolio (Miles Kingsley) and Mercutio (Jim Martin) as the audience warm to one of the families. The other family, I felt was less distinct and the direction of the piece would have been clearer if there was a more obvious demarcation between the Montagues and the Capulets on which the story relies. 

Various characters attempt in vain to keep the peace including a sympathetic Friar Lawrence (Sam Mandele) and officious Prince (Alex Tahnee) and Juliet’s well meaning and caring Nurse (also played by Tahnee.) As is often the case with Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s nurse comes out as the nicest, funniest, and slightly naughty character and Tahnee did a wonderful job in bringing out all of these facets to her character. 

Some of the licence allowed in the adaptation of the bard’s words was interesting. Some worked well to drive the story along or for comedic purposes but on occasions too much artistic licence was granted which may well have hadShakespeare spinning in his grave. The other main difficulty with this production was around hearing what the characters were saying. The nature of the building causes some acoustical challenges that the production did not address meaning that a lot of the dialogue was inaudible. The story is well enough known to be able to keep track of the action. Had I not known the story I doubt I would have had a clue what was going on especially when the action was taken to the back of the stage.

I particularly liked Brierley as Romeo. He had a glint in his eye and a good presence. Jim Martin as Mercutio also stood out for engaging both with the actors he was working with and his sense of the audience around him. The Community Ensemble need to be commended for the way they all worked together to conduct the scene changes – plaudits also go to director Corinne Kilvington and the stage crew for this too.

I came out of the performance thoroughly entertained which is always a sign of success and with some attention to the technical specifications of the production then it will be very good indeed. 

Romeo and Juliet runs at 17Nineteen in Sunderland until Sunday 16th July and will be followed by The Tempest at Roker Seafront (near The Pods), Sunderland, SR6 0PL from 17th – 20th August. 

– Stephen Stokoe

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