Pop-up Globe’s Romeo & Juliet delivers a classic with a modern twist

Auckland’s Pop-up Globe has seen over 1200 performances of some of Shaekespheres most famous works performed over the last four years. Last night saw the opening of their final season ‘The Summer of Love’ with a performance of his best-known tragedy Romeo & Juliet, directed (and introduced in person on opening night) by Dr Miles Gregory.

We all know the story of the star crossed lovers, one Montague and one Capulet, whose tragic demise ultimately unites the two families. So, after 400 odd years what does this new production have to offer this classic tale?

Well, it all kicked off with a bang. The cast appeared suddenly from amongst the groundlings to start the show riotously, even before the opening monologue was completely delivered. Chaotic fighting exploded onto the stage as the sound of dominating drums bellowed down from the live band above as blood spurted across the stage and into, or onto, the audience below. 

The streets of Verona looked fierce and the costumes mixed both modern and classical. Tracksuits, fancy dress and carnival wear met tights, corsets, puffy trousers and capes. This was mostly a successful mix, although it sat more comfortably during the lighter moments than the dark. Throughout the night, epic sword and knife fights choreographed by Alexander Holloway elevated the drama through their fast execution and the physical aptitude of the actors.

🎟️WIN 2 x tickets 🎟️ to the Pop-up Globe’s final season in Auckland ‘The Summer of Love’. Watch our interview with two of the stars of Romeo & Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, Jess Hong and Stephen Lovatt to find out how to enter.

The forth wall was broken throughout the show much to the delight of the audience, specifically the groundlings who were in the thick of the action – whether it be for a stolen kiss or a splatter of blood defacing their crisp white shirts (maybe don’t wear white when you visit Pop-up Globe). As always, the actors were quick on their feet to respond to crowd noises or unexpected distractions adding to the unpredictability of the evening.

The first half was mostly filled with fun, laughter and the mockery of the young, sensitive and loved up Romeo – who’s initial infatuation for Rosaline was to be short-lived. The unconventional costume silliness peaked when Romeo et al sneaked into the Capulet’s masked ball – he dressed as a banana and Juliet a strawberry upon their first meeting. However, behind their OTT costumes lay real chemistry with the classic ‘balcony scene’ resulting in smiles plastered across many an audience members’ face. 

The pace of the first half carried us along briskly to the devastating loss of Mercutio at the hands of Juliet’s cousin Tybalt; setting in motion the series of events that leads our young lovers to their inevitable fate.

The tone notably changed for the second half. There was little room for laughs, although surprisingly they did manage a few. The stage belonged to the once elated now distraught Romeo and Darcy Kent delivered his stirring performance with gusto, his momentum never floundering and emotions raw and resonating. His strong presence allowed him to carry and develop his character from a lovesick teen to his tragic end.

Jess Hong as Juliet performed a well-expressed and heartfelt depiction of a teen besotted in act one and fell perfectly into desperation and despair in act two while delivering some of the play’s most heartbreaking lines. She excelled is moments of high emotion but vocally was not as powerful as her male co-star and therefore didn’t communicate as consistently with the audience. Together they were well matched and totally believable as young teens in love as they appeared sweetly and comfortable in each other’s arms.

Rutene Spooner as Mercutio was a real crowd-pleaser on the night with a wonderful larger than life performance that tickled us all and more than reached even the highest seats in the house. His energy, comedic timing and gravitas when the text dictated it, were all spot on.  More comedic chops were shown by Amy Usherwood who played The Nurse, bringing joy with each appearance and oozing innuendo whenever the opportunity arose. Stephen Lovatt, as Juliet’s father Lord Capulet, also has his time to shine most notably when commanding his daughter’s marriage to Count Paris. He displayed both jovial elation and villainous rage with great effect. 

Knowing that Shakespeare’s works were performed in a similar setting centuries ago, as well as the obvious anarchic joy that comes from the performers that tread its boards, Pop-up Globe brings more than a little bit of theatrical magic. This production of Romeo & Juliet by the Pop-up Globe’s accomplished resident company delivers a classic with a modern twist. It’s a balance that successfully sprinkles fun and light amongst the most tragic of tragedies.

Romeo & Juliet is on at the Pop-up Globe until the 28th February 2020.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar

4 stars