Romeo and Juliet, on the surface, is a very silly story for any sensible thinking person. Two young teens meet and fall in love at first sight (Romeo after only moments before being infatuated with another), agree to marry the next day then end up killing themselves.
Teen love, angst and rebellion is of course a timeless theme but it is the 'gang culture' of Verona which resonates the strongest with modern times - perhaps why Goold eschewed guns for the more traditional blades as weapons of choice?
His approach is to give the play the energy of a teen on Red Bull, keeping the first half sexually charged and full of teasing, fun and humour. There is some brilliant skitting (and scene stealing) by Mercutio, the marvellous bleach-haired Jonjo O'Neill, who plays on the sexual double-entendres to the maximum.
Romeo, played by Sam Troughton (BBC's Robin Hood) is at times excitable and cocky while at others awkward and withdrawn. However, he could learn something about clarity of delivery from Jude Law as he did have a tendency to garble his lines in the passion of the performance.
Juliet was RSC fave Mariah Gale who hasn't always impressed me in other productions. I didn't like her Miranda in the The Tempest but thought she was much better as Ophelia opposite David Tennant. In the jolliness of the first half she puts in a fine performance but the second half was not quite a satisfying.
In the interval I did wonder how Goold was going to smoothly marry the lively and fun tone of the first half with looming tragic ending. The answer was to set a different pace as if Romeo and Juliet as a pair powered the first half but forced apart the energy and influence was weakened.
In Romeo's absence, Juliet is left alone to face her angry and abusive father blackmailing her into marriage she doesn't want. The vulnerability and youth of Gale's Juliet in this scene couldn't help but move.
But as things cascade towards the famous ending there are some opportunities lost. Juliet is faced with being interned in the family crypt with all the corpses while playing dead but the performance never really truly conveys the fear in the words.
And after all the build up, the deaths themselves are underwhelming quick. Juliet stabs herself in the stomach (heart would have been more symbolic surely?) and immediately falls dead in a way that reminded me of children play acting. OK so you don't want a big hammy death scene but Goold could've made her milk it a just a tiny bit.
I've only ever seen film versions of Romeo and Juliet and I still remember yelling at the screen at Leonardo di Caprio's Romeo to turn around as Juliet started wakening in Baz Lurhman's big screen outing.
Overall, it is a minor quibble in what is a great production. (Lots of lovely pictures here by Ellie Kurtz)
It's on at the Courtyard Theatre until August 27 (trailer here) it then transfers to the Roundhouse as part of the RSC's London season playing in rep through November and December and I've just booked to see it there.
The professionals' view
Michael Billington in The Guardian gave it four stars saying: "This is a play that, rightfully, belongs to youth. And there is a headlong, impetuous quality about Rupert Goold's new RSC production that chimes exactly with the spirit of the play."
Charles Spencer in The Telegraph also gave it four stars describing it as a wonderfully fresh and energetic production.