Review: Romeo and Juliet at York Theatre Royal

Romeo and Juliet as you have never seen it before!

By Angie Millard

HandleBards are a group of cycling actors who carry the set, props and costumes on the back of their bikes and perform Shakespeare across the globe. The pre-publicity promised: ‘…music, mayhem and more costume changes than you can shake a stick at’ and it certainly delivered.

The show runs for 90 minutes and it is packed with innovative comedy and pure farce. Handlebards are also at the forefront of environmentally sustainable theatre and as such won the 2014 and 2016 Sustainable Practice Award at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The cast work seamlessly as an ensemble and their energy level is breath-taking. Lucy Green’s portrayal of Juliet is a reversal of all audience expectations: a mixture of sickly sweet heroine and foot-stamping spoiled brat. In the balcony scene she wears the balcony like a gigantic hooped skirt uttering well known Shakespearian poetry and somehow making it work. Her Friar John begins the slapstick motif by squirting holy water at Friar Lawrence and this is continued by them all in different guises as the show progresses until she is thoroughly drenched in her funeral scene.

Paul Moss as Romeo caricatures a cringingly, gauche adolescent yet he too manages to suddenly make us realise that Shakespeare’s poetry can’t be entirely silenced. His portrayal of Lady Capulet is a lesson in how to convey character with just a flowered headband, jacket and a cocktail glass. When he confronts Juliet with the harsh reality of her marriage to Paris, his performance stops being funny and changes into the bullying power of a parent.

Tom Dixon is sensational as the nurse, helped by his bendy body and an apron with a huge bosom on the bib. He is the master of the funny walk and the bravura exit and his Friar Lawrence adds pure anarchy to the piece. He makes utter sense of the notoriously difficult “Queen Mab speech” and the slow-mo fight scenes are hilarious.

The actors have perfect timing as when they use huge sun and moon costumes to signify the time of day or interrupt the action to talk to the audience.

The production is only on for two nights but a visit to their website should give you details of where and when they can be seen locally. The Royal Shakespeare Company may not have to worry about its reputation but the comedy scene should look to its laurels.

The show is comic genius and I am only sorry that I haven’t seen this company before however, Macbeth is touring this Summer so keep an eye out. More details can be found on the HandleBards website.

Romeo and Juliet runs at York Theatre Royal from 25 to 26 May 2021. Its cast is Paul Moss, Lucy Green and Tom Dixon.