A selection of our productions of Romeo and Juliet, listed by year and director
Rupert Goold (2010)
This hectic production whirled with sex and death, fire and violence. To highlight their isolation, Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale as Romeo and Juliet begin the play in modern dress, while the rest of the characters wore period costumes. At the end this was reversed, the dead lovers in full Elizabethan finery as a modern policeman jotted down the details of the deaths.
Troughton often wore his hoodie with the hood up, withdrawn whenever not with Juliet. Gale appeared a quirky sullen teenager who was illuminated by passion. Jonjo O'Neill created a particularly memorable pornographically-minded bleach-blond Mercutio.
Goold's Romeo and Juliet was also performed in summer 2011, as part of the RSC's New York residency.
Neil Bartlett (2008)
Set in 1940/50s Italy, the costumes in this dark production had hints of The Sopranos and The Godfather and deliberately made no visual distinction between the Capulets and Montagues - this similarity betwen the Houses emphasised the futility of their feud. Instead of a balcony, Juliet (Anneika Rose) spoke her most famous lines from her bed, the cast-iron bedstead forming a barrier between her and Romeo (Daniel Dawson). With a set created mainly from chairs and the bed, the production climaxes with the back wall splitting pen to reveal the crypt and the tomb sliding downstage, surrounded by railing which Romeo cut through to be with Juliet.
Nancy Meckler (2006)
Dealing with the fact that nearly everyone educated in English knows what happens, Meckler staged Romeo and Juliet as a play-within-a-play. The performance took place as part of a festival in a Sicilian village, with the town's residents stepping onto the 'stage' to play a part, starting by laying down their weapons before they perform. Musicians and singers remained on stage throughout, performing Ilona Sekacz's mournful musical accompaniment. The play's fights were stylised aggressive dances with long staffs. Rupert Evans and Morven Christie made their RSC debuts in the title roles (see photo).
Michael Boyd (2000)
A minimalist, modern set, combined with sixteenth-century costumes created a hostile, harsh setting for this production. Two plain wooden walls curved away into a blind exit and a walkway extended out from the stage through the auditorium. At the end of the play the lovers left their tomb and walked off along this pathway through the audience. Tybalt and Mercutio also returned from the dead to watch the closing scenes. The play began with the violent fracas between the two families. After a few minutes of wild violence the combatants froze and from their midst emerged Romeo to speak the Prologue and predict his own death. In the course of the opening brawl Samson's head was cruelly smashed against the back wall and the resulting large bloodstain remained clearly visible throughout play. As Juliet leaned from her window, atop this same wall, to share the infinite bounty of her love for Romeo, this hateful stain silently made its opposition felt.
Adrian Noble (1995)
The nineteenth-century setting immediately suggested the feuding clans of Mafiosi Italy, gathering for family celebrations with tiny children playing beneath the adults' feet. Washing lines criss-crossed between the set's high walls while black-waistcoated waiters served elegant gentlemen at pavement cafés. The gloomy vault was evoked with full Gothic horror, complete with rotting corpses and skeletons discernible through the grisly green light. A dark Zubin Varla and a blonde Lucy Whybrow played the young lovers.
Terry Hands (1989)
The design of this production simply relied on the thrust stage and tiered wooden galleries of the intimate Swan Theatre. Simple but effective lighting combined with simple costumes, in warm, earthy tones, to create space for the performances to breathe and the action to move with speed and excitement. Mark Rylance's Romeo began in deepest gloom, bemoaning his unrequited love for Rosaline. The contrast, then, was made all the more welcome and touchingly comic when he rushed headlong to the Friar in his haste to get married to someone altogether new. Georgia Slowe's slender, swift Juliet contrasted effectively with the solid, comfortable bulk of her Nurse.
Michael Bogdanov (1986)
This modern-dress production boldly cut the text after Juliet's suicide, replacing it with the Prologue, now spoken by the Prince to a crowd of journalists and photographers in a cynical exploitation of the dead lovers. Sean Bean and Niamh Cusack's lovers were the rare possessors of sincerity and innocence in a materialistic and hypocritical society. This society was excitingly evoked on stage, with Armani suits and jazz bands and a glamorous Tybalt in black leather and low-slung red sports car. Romeo poisoned himself with a drug from a hypodermic needle.
Ron Daniels (1980)
Mean-looking street gangs marauded the bleak and hostile environment of this Verona. Two cracked and peeling walls swivelled around to redefine the playing space and present a blank face to the dreams and desires of the young lovers. Modern black leathers and boots combined with sixteenth-century style jackets to create a mixture of the period and the contemporary. Judy Buxton and Anton Lesser played the lovers.
Trevor Nunn (1976)
A wooden galleried set encircled the stage for the whole of the 1976 season, allowing some of the audience to sit behind the stage and evoking a strong sense of the Elizabethan playhouse. Part of the gallery provided Juliet's balcony and a trap door in the bare stage acted as her tomb. Francesca Annis and Ian McKellen played the lovers.
Terry Hands (1973)
Estelle Kohler played the role again in this production, this time with Timothy Dalton as Romeo. This was another dark reading of the play with a permanent set of two flanking metal staircases linked by a long bridge or gantry. The angry and aggressive interpretation of Mercutio was typical of the production's bitter taste: he carried with him a life-sized female doll which he violently dismembered as he enumerated the sexual attractions of Romeo's Rosaline.
Karolos Koun (1967)
Estelle Kohler and Ian Holm played the lovers in a bleak, stylized production. One reviewer in the Birmingham Post noted how 'the dancers at the Capulet's ball freeze like figures in a dream when the lovers meet. Shadowy figures wander as if drugged in the background like ghosts on the other bank of the Styx.'
Peter Brook (1947)
Going against the grain of mid-century taste, Brook's controversial and tough approach stressed the play's violence and the lovers' extreme youth. Laurence Payne was 21 and Daphne Slater only 18. Paul Scofield delivered a darkly bitter Mercutio and Brook cut the reconciliation between the families at the end of the play.