POLINA Kalinina’s terrifying, passionate and heartbreaking production of Romeo and Juliet, for Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, has introduced a new element to the company which has been presenting plays at the former cigar packing factory in Bedminster every spring for the past 16 years.
Company founder Andrew Hilton invited the rising star director to take the reins of this show, and she has brought not only a new energy but many new actors to the production, which continues at the venue until 4th April and then tours until the end of June, when it returns to the region at Salisbury Playhouse.
The world’s greatest love story is all about teenage passions, and the young Russian director has chosen a late 1960s setting and it opens with a song borrowed from Cymbeline – Fear No More the Heat of the Sun.
There’s a feud going on between the Montagues and the Capulets, and their wealthy, wired young sons and cousins are roaming the streets looking for trouble.
Juliet Capulet has already lost her brothers, and she’s the only apple left in her arrogant father’s eye. Her mother, not much more than 14 years older, is one of those “if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you” women. Thank god Juliet has her nurse for comfort.
The Montague heir is a dreamy romantic, deep in frustrated love for Rosaline and not too interested in the fighting that obsesses his friends and relations.
In an effort to take his mind off his misery, his eccentric pal Mercutio suggests going to a masked ball at the Capulet’s house.
There, as we all know, Romeo and Juliet meet, and their path towards bliss and destruction is set.
The Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory company has been like a seasonal rep with a regular company, but the guest director has introduced several new actors, many of them recent graduates of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
In the title roles Paapa Essiedu and Daily Whalley exemplify the gauche longing and shy braggadocio of the young lovers, and Oliver Hoare is a sensationally wired and weird Mercutio.
Sally Oliver is wonderfully warm and knowing as the nurse, a 60s au pair who became part of the family.
And SatTF regular Paul Currier has never been better than as a conflicted Friar Laurence. It was he who controlled the audience tears at the end, which is quite a feat in so well-known a play.
Do see this exciting production if you can.
Photographs by Toby Farrow and Craig Fuller