A strong, highly accessible and justifiably thought-provoking production of Shakespeare's most famous love play. An ideal one, too, for introducing someone to the Bard for the first time. There is great vigour in the performances and much visual reinforcement of the words. The customary updating of the play's medieval urban world of violent feuding families also works well.
I was fearful in advance that the 'Bosnia-cum-Beirut-cum-Belfast' connection might have been overplayed. In the event, it is genuinely arresting and clearly beds the world of the play into a dark yet utterly familiar context, giving it thorough relevance. As a note of caution, I thought the Prince's entry as UN peace-keeper in the opening moments veered uncomfortably close to comedy. Also the street violence at this point looks more fashionable than real, which gives it a gratuitous touch. But later this is extremely effective.
For those who might feel they've seen the star crossed lovers cross the boards a little too often by now, I have to say there is still plenty new to spot. I'd never really 'noticed' Mercutio's 'Queen Mab' speech before - a moment of magical poetic suspension played with especially OTT relish.
The youthful casting for the two lovers works excellently. Garry Collins and Kananu Kirimi bring the right balance of passion and fresh-faced innocence. They make for a genuinely sexy couple too, which can only be right. Overall most of the delivery is fast-paced and this, on the whole, is a good policy, but can at times lead to some loss of diction among one or two of the actors, particularly when some of the Scots voices are not so comfortable with Shakespeare's language, alas. One notable exception is Carol Ann Crawford's Nurse is played with immense gusto and relish. Indeed, one of the keynotes for everyone's performances, is immense fun with the roles.
For me the greatest strength of the production emerges after the interval when the greater, darker whole of the tragedy kicks in. It is announced, with unmistakable dramatic force, at Carol Ann Duffy's entry into Juliet's bed-chamber with the ropes. From that point on, each scene is both intellectually and emotionally gripping. My only doubtful moment is odd underplaying of the scene where Juliet's family receive the shock of her supposed death on her supposed wedding morning. However, by the time we reach the final scene at the morgue, everything is in place to bring the painful drama to an atmospheric and convincing close. The way the set has been devised to incorporate the catacomb is both ingenious and utterly effective.
Don't go by the previous (recent) track record for Lyceum Shakespeare - this one is definitely worth seeing.