“What should it be that they so shriek abroad”
After Twelfth Night, the Shakespeare on 3 radio season continues with Romeo and Juliet with the same company, plus a few additions, taking on the Bard’s work again. Whereas there’s a nice sense of continuity about it, it’s an odd choice as there’s another play, The Tempest, to complete the season which uses a different cast. And it is also a slightly difficult choice in the limitations it imposes on the casting, although this may just be a personal thing as it took a long time for me accept the idea of Trystan Gravelle, an actor I really like, as the teenage Romeo.
His voice is so melodiously identifiable that I completely failed at convincing myself I was listening to Romeo rather than Gravelle, and even if you’re not familiar with him, I’m pretty sure he just sounds too old and experienced for the role. Paired with Vanessa Kirby as Juliet, whose voice I struggled to warm to in Twelfth Night, it made for an ignominious beginning despite the evocative sound design of the piece. But something eventually clicked after about an hour, whether it was my preconception finally dying down or the production finding another gear or some combination of both, and from their post-coital glow of tenderness I completely bought into them as a couple.
Judicious cuts keep the play down to a brisk 2 hours, but it was nice to see a little innovation creeping into the recutting of the production. The way in which Friar Laurence’s plotting in Act IV Scene I is interleaved with snippets of what follows to bring us up swiftly up to Scene V’s shocking discovery by the Nurse is brilliantly executed, showcasing as it did two of the best performances. Rosie Cavaliero’s bustling, girlish Nurse and a tender Friar from Ron Cook, his final self-lacerating confession extremely moving.
Overall I found the second half of the production much more effective than the first, the quieter yet still inexorable rush towards tragedy found genuine currency where the brash bravado of the warring families didn’t have quite the same impact on this medium for me. And again my thoughts turn to who exactly the target market is for these productions and whether this format is the best for ‘unlocking’ Shakespeare. That said, this was a rather good version of this tale of Juliet and her Romeo.