The problem with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is they just take too long to die. By the time their scheme is hatched, your average theatre-goer is looking at his or her watch and wondering if it will all be over by last orders. The innovative Volcano Theatre Company cheekily promise to improve on the Bard's definitive love story by cutting out the dead wood and concentrating on the emotions between the couple rather than the events that doom them.
In fact, their approach is even more radical. The play is set in something between the Big Brother House and a Cluedo board. The model of reality TV is carried throughout the performance: feuding families are replaced by a typical Big Brother house argument and the characters pour their hearts out to a video camera whose images are projected onto the back-drop.
Reality and fiction are mixed up in this play. The actors (perhaps rather self-indulgently) use their real names as they reflect their characters' actions. Friar Tuck is the controller of the lovers' fate as he films and directs the other characters and moves cut-out figures around a replica of the set. The difference between romantic ideal and nerdish reality (Romeo burns his pyjamas when he meets Juliet) is brought out in a suicide scene which is acted by Barbie and Ken dolls.
The opening scene is superb as Friar Tuck moves around a dark set with a night-vision camera, showing us each character in a death pose. In the middle of the play, a fevered dream sequence is excellently pulled off. Throughout, the acting and direction are superb and their is a lot of clever comedy and physical theatre.
These perfectly directed and performed scenes work individually, but the entire play is fractured. The Volcano Theatre Company claimed to be 'deconstructing' Shakespeare but you have to wonder if they realise that this means something other than just cutting it into chunks and jumbling them around. Chunks of the original text re mixed with the modern dialogue; the adapter seeming to favour the most aphoristic excerpts.
If you hate Shakespeare, this play is mercifully short at just 75 minutes, giving you plenty of time at the bar, but having ripped the characters and events from the story, we are left with an intriguing but disjointed mish-mash of images. The justification for this piece perhaps comes with the tragic ending which was perhaps more moving than some more conventional productions of the original play. You have to admire the company for having the brassneck to muck about with a play so central to our culture, but its disappointing to see the excellent abilities of all involved spent on an unsatisfying experience.