Review: Romeo and Julie

A Cardiffian twist on the Shakespeare classic explores the lives of two teenagers from Splott

Romeo and Julie looking up at the sky
Callum Scott Howells as Romeo and Rosie Sheehy as Julie on stage at the Sherman Theatre. Photo – Marc Brenner

Romeo and Julie, 13 – 29 April, The Sherman Theatre.

Two teenagers who walked the same streets for years but never met finally meet at a chance encounter when Romeo falls asleep in the local library, overtired from looking after his baby Niamh.

From start to finish, the play by the National Theatre is filled with quick wit and colourful language yet brings to light the harsh realities that young teenagers from a deprived area of Cardiff can be faced with.

Written by Gary Owens and director Rachel O’Riordan, this two-hour long modern production is one of the many reworks under the duo’s belt, such as Killology and an 80s Margaret Thatcher themed rework of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard.

This refreshing new take on the Shakespearean staple switches out the Elizabethan English for current everyday language, this production is one that teens can relate to and the older generation can learn from.

The classic forbidden love is not forgotten in this production

The story follows Romeo (Callum Scott Howells), an 18-year-old single dad sporting a Nike tracksuit, trying to manage the emotions of wanting to be a normal teenager and being a responsible parent, as well as trying to deal with his alcoholic mother, Barb, who spends her evenings down at the pub.

Julie (Rosie Sheehy) is an ambitious and brainy young lady finishing her A-levels, who is destined to study at Cambridge, but upon meeting Romeo and falling pregnant she finds herself in a difficult position, choosing to leave for Cambridge or staying and starting a family with Romeo.

The minimalist set leaves the audience captivated in the action with few distractions, only consisting of a small square table and a handful of sad looking grey chairs. Yet, those few sad grey chairs transform into Barb’s small one bedroom flat and Julie’s living room with the help of the cast, thumping house music and odd shaped neon lights.

The audience is constantly thrown between roaring laughter and rounds of gasps as the tone of the play can shift from jovial to tense within a single line, leaving a sense of unease lingering in the atmosphere.

With a five-person cast constantly present on stage, it’s easy to get the feeling that you’re being watched by the lingering parental figures. The classic forbidden love is not forgotten in this production with Julie’s father, Col, and stepmother, Kath, banning her from seeing Romeo so she can focus on school, as we know from the original this can have the opposite affect.

Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy in rehearsals for Romeo and Julie

While the couple from Splott are somewhat older than Shakespeare’s pair from Verona, the links between the two are strikingly similar.

Both couples have a knack for defying authority and thinking they know best for themselves while making rash decisions, proving their immaturity and reluctance to listen to advice.

Looking past the slightly over-exaggerated Cardiff accents, the play provides a window into the lives of teenagers attempting to navigate adult emotions and situations.

BSL performance 27 April.

Tickets are available on the Sherman Theatre website.