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  • Chris O'Rourke

Romeo and Juliet

Benjamin Lafayette and Eilish McLaughlin in Romeo and Juliet. Image Declan Brennan


Mill Theatre, Dundrum. A venue that wouldn't look out of place in Dublin Theatre Festival. Yet habits like allowing people parade in after the show's begun, or leave and come back like a relaxed performance, give pause for confusion. How serious is this theatre? Isn't it a venue for music and comedy gigs? Mill Productions would argue that it's very serious about its theatre. Urging you to look no further than their current production, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Lesley Conroy, Eilish McLaughlin and Garry Mountain in Romeo and Juliet. Image Declan Brennan

In a similar vein to the Jessie Buckley or Baz Luhrmann interpretations, Mill Productions Romeo and Juliet favours a modern slant. One that cranks up the speed and crams the action into a tight ninety minutes. If you're not sitting your Leaving Cert, you don't need to know all the details of the Montague and Capulet families. All you need to know is they're enemies. Which poses problems for the young, star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, one from either family meeting across a crowded dance floor. Helicopters, spotlights, aggressive music, all help get the adrenaline flowing as you're visually hooked from the fighting get-go. Gerard Bourke's workaday set given life by Kris Mooney's effective lighting.

Benjamin Lafayette, Sarah Foley'and Ben Waddell in Romeo and Juliet. Image Declan Brennan

Things stumble as soon as verbal shots are fired, with rushed lines initially tumbling into rhubarb (the word to describe the background talk in movies you can never make out). The experienced Garry Mountaine as Capulet, and Lesley Conroy as Lady Capulet, quickly provide ballast, showing the predominantly young cast how to slow everything down without slowing down, how to make it big without bigging it up, and, most importantly, how to articulate. Most adapt quickly to the tone set by the two seasoned pros. Ross Fitzpatrick's Tybalt, quick tempered and quickest to pull a knife, looks understatedly menacing in a compelling, well articulated performance. Fiach Kunz's Friar, is similarly present and impressive. Sarah Foley's beautifully balanced Benvolio, and Ben Waddell's superb Mercurio also excellent, their chemistry magnetic, with Waddell looking like he's been performing Shakespeare since before kindergarten. A scene stealing Evelyn Shaw as the Nurse is an utter delight, playfully articulating Shakespeare with a wicked rural lilt. Not so Benjamin Lafayette as Romeo. As for Eilish McLaughlin as Juliet, she does her own thing.

Romeo and Juliet. Image Declan Brennan

When all is said and done, and all marriages, murders and poisons properly distributed, Romeo and Juliet hinges on the relationship between its two protagonists. With Lafayette and McLaughlin that balance is tipped to one side. Lafayette is, without doubt, a fine and talented actor, but too often his invested Romeo looks like he’s in a different play, even allowing for opening night nerves. With pace and delivery constantly large and frenzied, lines are rarely given time to land, the audience left snatching at keywords to get the gist. Constantly cheating-out (his body positioned to deliver lines to the audience rather than the cast), even during the intimate death scene, results in an ever diminishing chemistry with Juliet. Leaving Lafayette looking on his own for constantly overstating the understating. Lafayette is clearly a force to be reckoned with on his day, being notably impressive in some excellent moments. This just wasn't his day. Tomorrow may well be.

Benjamin Lafayette and Eilish McLaughlin in Romeo and Juliet. Image Declan Brennan

It’s left to McLaughlin's Juliet to capture the depth of the couples chemistry and carry them across the finish line. A tall order, but McLaughlin delivers with subtle style, proving a revelation when it comes to detail. McLaughlin plays the scene, the line, the word, everything, right down to the last syllable, constantly making simple yet surprisingly strong choices. Under Geoff O'Keefe's direction McLaughlin finds nuggets in fractions of moments. Tilts lines or breaks them open to find a contemporary flow and sound. Speaks with a physicality that individualises Juliet's connection with Shakespeare's words and renders her a girl for today. As a girl on the cusp of womanhood, McLaughlin's Juliet grows before our eyes, with Florentina Burcea's superb costuming adding accents throughout. If McLaughlin does her own thing, straddling an uneasy divide between looking in a league of her own or out there disconnected on her own, her thing, in this instance, is exactly the thing that needed doing. And McLaughlin looks like she’s only getting started.

Eilish McLaughlin in Romeo and Juliet. Image Declan Brennan

As the final scene unfolds, Romeo and Juliet suffers a crisis of confidence. A narrative voice with dulcet tones tries wrap things up with the fake poignancy of someone selling butter from a Kerry kitchen. Meanwhile, red petals fall from the sky looking twee. The end didn't need either, the work was already done. If Mill Productions Romeo and Juliet has some issues, it stands proudly on its own two feet. One suspects it will get even better the longer the run.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, presented by Mill productions, runs at Mill Theatre, Dundrum until March 16.

For more in formation visit Mill Theatre


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