People sporting dodgy moustaches and retro hairstyles, dressed in scruffy jeans, jump-suits and shells-suits, while crushed cans of Polish lager and empty takeaway cartons bestrew the stage backed by a wall of corrugated iron.
Director Jonathan Humphries and designer Hannah Clark’s vision of fair Verona is a bit disorientating at first It’s a novel idea to reflect the Montague and Capulet enmity in the clan feuds in the Balkans in the Nineties and fortunately he doesn’t take the analogy too far.
It all revolves around the star-crossed lovers, and in their first encounter at the masked dance they dance around each other in love-at-first-sight rapture as the other characters’ actions are frozen.
Freddie Fox immediately impresses as Romeo with a sexy swagger and bravado crossed with boyish confusion and vulnerability. It’s a performance that no doubt earned the approval of his family support on press night which included father and mother Edward Fox and Joanna David and sister Emilia Fox.
As Juliet Morfydd Clark is sweet but subdued at first but comes into her own in the second half when we see more of her with Romeo banished and her anguish turns to defiance.
Jonathan Humphries comes up with some inventive comic touches such as some business with a leaf blower or Benvolio and Mercutio (Scott Arthur and Simon Manyonda, both good) popping up from traps to play out a scene in a sauna.
Rachel Lumberg is given free rein to play for laughs as the jabbering northern Nurse (there is a baffling mishmash of accents, incidentally) but the darker aspects of the story are not overlooked such as the misogyny demonstrated by Mercutio towards the Nurse and Capulet’s violent treatment of his errant daughter.
The casting of a female Friar (Charlie Bate) is no mere novelty and lends a different slant when Romeo threatens suicide and she chides: “Art thou a man?”
The production also makes use of the auditorium to good effect, especially in the well-executed balcony scene when Romeo seems to confide in the audience.
With brisk and bloody fight scenes, it’s a production which exudes youthful energy along with romantic charm which should appeal to that very audience.