Benjamin Wolff reviews

BEDFEST 2020: Her Romeo

The greatest tragedy is that I have so few words to review this play. Her Romeo was an utterly momentous piece of theatre. It contained an all-encompassing emotional range, at times bright and humorous, at other harrowing and murderous. Never in my life had I felt so truly stunned and distraught at a piece of scripted murder, however, I am getting ahead of myself here.

Her Romeo is a fantastic retelling of Romeo and Juliet through the eyes of Benvolia, Romeo’s greatest friend and victim of a deep unrequited love with him. The play impressively stays very true to the original Shakespearian script, maintaining almost all the original text. However, through a staggeringly well-done restructuring of perspective and composition Her Romeo has somehow achieved the feat of adding further complexity to one of Shakespeare’s greatest works.

To attempt the herculean task of explaining all that I found awe-inspiring in so brief a space: The play begins with a heartfelt but originally elusive utterance from Benvolia during which her fellow actors march chaotically around the stage in a disordered fury of frenzied speech. Until all is still and Charlie Woolley leaps upon a table to deliver the iconic opening lines: ‘Two households, both alike in dignity,/ In fair Verona, where we lay our scene’. This is just one of many examples of the wondrous staging and complex direction this play has to offer. From astoundingly convincing choreographed violence to the construction of Juliet’s balcony out of the bodies of fellow actors, this production was at all times intriguing and engaging. Never before have I seen such versatility achieved with a simple set design of a table and a portable door. To briefly give credit where it is due in a criminally reductive way. The use of music was absorbing and perfectly executed. The partnership of the intense drama of the play with the vigorous music of The White Stripes, The Police, The Kings of Leon and so much more instilled a great vitality to the piece. The lighting was also fantastic, it was utilised with a huge amount of variety and effect yet done so fluidly as to never intrude on the immersion of the play.

In terms of the actors, all were marvellous, confident and convincing, yet, of course, some were beyond enthralling and worthy of particular note. The greatest acting can all be epitomised in the blood stilling scene of Mercutio’s murder and Tybalt’s subsequent demise. As Mercutio lay dying in heart rending fear, Romeo leaps over his body and drags Tybalt to the ground then beats her to death with his bare fits, skin hitting skin with such a palpable noise that the entire audience was silent in horror. Fergus Head’s depiction of Mercutio throughout the play was a marvel of perfect characterisation. At times playful and quarrelsome, at others a man with the capacity to hold a strength of emotion that would annihilate most people.  Yann Davies’ Romeo was at once the immature lover and the devastated human, and at all times utterly captivating. However, the greatest and most enthralling display came from Olivia Thom’s Benvolia. Her beautifully natural and understated rendition of the tragedy of this onlooking unrequited lover left me heartbroken. Thom carries the power to cast the emotion of her acting right into the chests of the audience and force them to endure a complex range of human experience.

In short, Becca Chadder has put on one of the finest pieces of theatre I have seen in a very long time. I have nothing but utmost respect and admiration for her and her cast.

Her Romeo performed at the Bedlam Theatre on 25 January 2020, as part of BEDFEST 2020.