A show with a heart

Manchester Theatre Awards on Romeo & Juliet

Box Clever is a London-based young people’s theatre company with a considerable reputation and impressive outreach – last year, they say, they ‘engaged’ with 26,000 youngsters, in schools and theatres across the country. Their opening performance at Contact was another virtually full house.

They aim to inspire and challenge and their three-person adaptation of Shakespeare’s greatest love story certainly does that. Much cut of course – it runs for an interval-less 60 minutes, plus post-show discussion – it mixes the original text with street-wise language and a live DJ soundtrack.

It’s all performed on and around an impressive heart-shaped climbing frame metal structure which gives a high-impact physicality to the staging.

The opening few minutes are somewhat overwhelming and over-demanding, with too much action, too much sound and much of the dialogue drowned out. Fears that the soundtrack from DJ Virgil Howe would be a major contributor to hastening hearing loss for all those present were soon allayed however as the production settles into an intimate concentration on the core love story.

Narrator Carl Chambers fills in the plot lines, seriously questions their sudden intense infatuation with the immature teens themselves and generally keeps the action moving along.

Jessie Dubieniec’s feisty Juliet is particularly appealing and, though David Ajao is stuck with the soppier role of Romeo, he too rises above the audience sniggers so that the final scene proves pretty moving stuff.

It’s all directed with verve and insight by Iqbal Khan and as an approach to Shakespeare from a somewhat oblique angle it works extremely well.

Black marks however to Contact’s front of house management. The company were, I’m told, having technical problems and the show finally started 30 minutes later than advertised. But the audience had not been informed and queued on the stairs for that length of time, waiting for the auditorium to open.

Alan Hulme, Manchester Theatre Awards