“What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?”
The Faction return to the New Diorama for their now customary annual repertory season, having seriously shaken up their line-up for the first time – just two core ensemble members remaining along with directors Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith. What remains though is an equally serious streak of inventiveness that marks them as one of the more adventurous and exciting theatre companies out there. And it is that sense of innovation that sustains their fresh and spiky Romeo and Juliet which clocks in at a healthy three hours and fifteen minutes.
It may seem like a strange combination – such fidelity to the fullness of the text yet such exploratory theatre-making as led by Valentine Smith – but it provides some lovely moments such as the setting of the Act II prologue to music which is sung beautifully by the full company. Keeping the majority of the company onstage at all times allows for some fascinating, and wordless, extratextual exploration of relationships – the sex and violence of Capulet and Lady Capulet’s tempestuous marriage is compelling to watch and the genuine affection, love even, between the Nurse and Peter makes perfect sense.
I also really liked the intelligent doubling which results in some achingly elegant moments – quick as a flash with a new hat, Tom Brownlee’s Prince investigates the murder of his own Mercutio; similarly Romeo’s anguish over the body of Christopher Tester’s Tybalt transmutes into a comforting embrace from the Friar with the subtlest of onstage costume changes. With such interesting, thought-provoking work as this, it almost seems a perverse choice to go for the full text as well as it adds a lot more words (and running time) but to little substantive additional effect.