Review: SUSU Theatre Group’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at The Annex, Southampton, 23/3/24

Worth it!
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Everyone has read or at least heard about ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at some point in their life, whether it was due to the educational system or pure interest in William Shakespeare’s work. I had the opportunity to attend SUSU Theatre Group’s production on the 23rd of March, directed by Emily Dugdale, Fletcher Stafford, and Emily Dennis.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a tragedy, written back in 1597 – it is one of the most frequently performed plays, therefore it has very little room for creativity. You go into it expecting certain things – the tale of the lovers, and deaths that follow throughout. When the cast first walked out, a lot of them in Hawaiian shirts, I was skeptical. I thought that the costumes were taking away from their performance, making it hard to focus and recognise the characters.

However, the costumes ended up working. The colour red was assigned to the Capulets with more formal clothing, whilst blue was to the Montagues with Hawaiian shirts: it was easy to distinguish between rival sides. Throughout the events, I adored the little changes to the costumes: though Juliet’s (played by Lily Akers) dress was white, she had a red ribbon around her that allowed for several interpretations. Was it to show that she was ‘pure’ from her family’s hatred? Was the goal to portray the innocence? Romeo (played by Ben Mansell), on the other hand, had a blue bandana around his neck. Once the two of them married, the colour of both the bandana and the ribbon changed to purple, which was a lovely touch.

The choreography of the fights was very impressive – it flowed and appeared realistic, especially with limited space. The character that seemed to make the most of it was Mercutio (played by Dominic Leach), jumping on the tables, and making the viewer feel that it was more than just a room, but actual scenery. He worked well with others, but the most charming duo was Romeo and Benvolio (Zayn Khan) – their dynamic worked really well, and every scene with them was a pleasure to watch.

The production’s lighting was another memorable feature. The scene where Romeo and Juliet first see each other was highlighted by the light which did a good job of individualising the characters to focus on. However, the music at times was too loud to hear the lines which took attention away from it.

In the play, we spend much more time with Romeo than Juliet, however, Akers’ performance shone whenever on stage through her whimsical delivery. She portrayed the admiration of Romeo and the change he represented in her life impeccably, showing how impressionable she was. The chemistry between two main characters was strong, and made you root for them.

Of course, Shakespeare’s iconic production is also well known for it’s diverse side characters. Robin Mooney delivered an impressively unlikeable performance as Lord Capulet, while Vivek Kanani and Arianwyn Shipsides also delivered impeccable performances as Lord Montague and Peter respectively.

There is a certain annoyance that I have always had with this Shakespeare production in that the lead characters’ destined journey to be together feels slightly labourous in the second act. However, the SUSU Theatre Group managed to bypass this common fault of the production through its aforementioned lively cast of characters. I envy everyone in the production getting to watch it multiple times – it is absolutely worth it!

SUSU Theatre Group return with Moira Buffini’s ‘Dinner’ on May 8th, tickets will be available here soon.


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