I arrived at the Bread & Roses a little dubious as I’m not exactly a Shakespeare buff, despite a deep appreciation for his language I do sometimes struggle if the story telling is not clear and confident.
I was, however, reassured by the gender swapping title, that this interpretation would bring a fresh perspective on what can be a difficult narrative with problematic and mostly silent female characters.
The action begins with two of the ensemble throwing a tennis ball around the small stage, this sets the tone for the entire show as they have experimented with many elements of the play to shake it up.
A clothes rail, two mike stands, and a scant selection of props, reminiscent of a fancy-dress shop were used with simple elegance by Foster, Kupe and Mayhoub, transforming into some clearly drawn characters as part of the ensemble.
The ongoing 1970’s Glam Rock soundtrack had variable impact sometimes beautifully echoing the blossoming romance on stage and other times undermining it. This did however add to the aesthetic and sense of time and space which worked with such a paired down production.
Juliet becoming Julian worked well with a nuanced performance from Franklin paired with the confident and skilled portrayal of Romea from Schuler.
The show really worked when it was at its most playful, Kupe’s interpretation of Lady Capulet being a particular highlight, donning dark glasses and slurring into one of the mics, a woman clearly more interested in where her next glass of Chablis is coming from rather than the romantic pursuits of her offspring was an inspiration, giving the audience some beautifully played comic moments that only added to the freshness of the show.
The simplicity of the balcony scene was a standout moment, questioning the need for elaborate set design, when all you need is an actor in the audience and the other one on stage!
The direction from Kressly brings a strong sense of story with actors having a fantastic grip on the text with the language feeling conversational and bright, at its strongest moments reminiscent of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic with its vitality and invention, I would love to see what this company and director could do with more resources.
Romea: Isabelle Schuler
Julian: Jamal Franklin
Company: Acushla-Tara Kupe, Elham Mayhoub, and Romy Foster
Director: Laura Kressly
Dramaturge: Hailey Bachrach
Consulting Producer: Kerry Fitzgerald
Producer: Isabelle Schuler