Romeo and Juliet (1982): Young Vic Theatre
PrRomeo and Juliet (1982)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Roy Alexander (Romeo); Vivienne Martin (Nurse); Alyson Spiro (Juliet); Albert Welling (Mercutio).
This production was staged at the Young Vic Theatre in April 1982 and subsequently toured, including to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 14 - 19 June 1982.
A Guardian profile of Alyson Spiro prior to opening notes the presence of National Front graffiti on the Young Vic building which opined "If you're white you should vote NF every time". The Guardian interview also has Spiro explaining the production concept: "The Montagues are all black and the Capulets white, which is a good idea for this day and age, but the real reason behind it is that in Renaissance Northern Italy there happened to be a lot of different nationalities like Turks and Africans. The paintings of that period show clearly it was a multi-racial society, like ours. It's the way people lived then, and the way people live now, and the way theatre should be" ~ "Love prevails in black or white", Guardian, 8 May 1982
"The day will no doubt come when comment on the colour of actors' skins is irrelevant. But integrated casting is such a hot issue in the theatre that I must first applaud Mr Visnevski's innovatory move of introducing a black Romeo and a white Juliet into a melting pot of Montagues and Capulets who show both colours. The tactic obliterates any hint of racial tension, for the dispute is one of name and tribal affiliation....Up to the interval and Mercutio's death, the play is carried by a strong sense of street manners, from the moment Mark Heath's robust Peter (much better than his doubled Montague) bites his thumb with a crude pop and sets the tone of sexual weaponry that runs through the text. Albert Welling's popinjay Mercutio makes a nonsense of his lines, but he is unmistakably part of the gang. These outdoor scenes, vividly carried by Roy Alexander's mercurial and attractive Romeo, reach a fine climax in the humiliation of the Nurse (Gaye Brown in an odd turban typical of the uneasy exoticism of the costumes), bawdily transformed from child minder to whore by the gallants' rudery." ~ Michael Coveney, "Romeo and Juliet", Financial Times, 14 May 1982
Andrew Visnevski's multi-racial version (all black Montagues, all white Capulets), clearly designed with young audiences in mind, should go down a treat. If not the most subtle production in the world, it has the great advantage of clarity, speed and visual impact - finely achieved in Annenna Stubbs's colourful patchwork costumes, plain open staging, and John B Read's evocative lighting. But its great strength lies in its sense of community, thanks to a particularly persuasive Capulet family (David Henry's bluff, more than usually forceful father, and a warm hearted, garrulous Nurse from Gaye Brown). The cast (with a couple of exceptions) are good and there's an excellent Benvolio from Okon Ubanga Jones. Judging by the reactions of the packed teenage audience (latching onto the sexual innuendos with gusto), identification with its young lovers works as potently as ever; it's not difficult to imagine versions with a Belfast Protestant/Catholic background or a contemporary England-based Indian family and the enforcement of an arranged marriage by a 'traditionalist' father on his westernised daughter. Any takers?" ~ Carole Woddis, City Limits in London Theatre Record, May 6 - 19, 1982
"...tribe Capulet is white, tribe Montague is black, and Verona a medieval Newark or Detroit. The side-effects of this can be odd - Tybalt's 'this, by his voice, should be a Montague' sounds like a fake-tactful evasion, as sensible as staring square-on at an elephant and identifying it by its smell - and the result as a whole is neither illuminating nor well-performed." ~ Benedict Nightingale, New Statesman in London Theatre Record, May 6 - 19, 1982
"But he loses much of the potential impact by setting his Romeo and Juliet in a vaguely eastern never-never land, complete with jugglers and reminiscent of pantomime, where the young male characters prance around in the silliest hats and trousers at present to be seen on the London stage....Roy Alexander successfully suggests Romeo's headlong vitality but as the mood darkens his performance becomes increasingly histrionic. No such complaints about Gaye Brown's compassionate, rustic and surprisingly sexy Nurse, but the real discovery is Alyson Spiro, who charts Juliet's emotional growth with touching clarity." ~ Charles Spencer, "Romeo in never-never land", Evening Standard, 17 May 1982
"And it's that stale air of experimentalism that hangs unpleasantly about the shapeless production. The families are black versus white. Out of the window goes honour. With it went Lady Montague. So much of the tenderest poetry arrives courtesy of express delivery that it seems unfair to say that Romeo (Roy Alexander) has the speech of a football supporter with a need to be heard....The National Theatre tired of its Caribbean production of Measure for Measure and allowed the country's most experienced black performers to disperse. Time to bring them back and have a big-budget crack at this one." ~ David Roper, Guardian in London Theatre Record, May 6 - 19, 1982