Romeo (It’s a Sin’s Callum Scott Howells), who goes by Romey, is a single dad, devoted to his baby daughter but struggling in the cost-of-living crisis. He can’t afford nappies, let alone a takeaway. Julie (Rosie Sheehy) attends the local Welsh school and has big ambitions to study physics at Cambridge University. There are no feuding families here, but neither Romeo’s alcoholic mum nor Julie’s hard-working dad and stepmum are too happy about their child’s choice of partner. Will the teens risk everything to be with one another?
Rosie Sheehy (Julie) and Callum Scott Howells (Romeo) in Romeo and Julie at the National Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner
Howells is exemplary as the young father, shaking with stress and tiredness but determined to get his head around parenting and do everything in his power to avoid handing over his baby to social services – even snubbing his mum's bribes. So too do we believe his love for Julie, shown through shy stares and comically timed pouts. Sheehy delivers an equally vivid performance as the love-struck scholar. Together, their chemistry is visceral, fizzing and electric.
Catrin Aaron also deserves a mention as Romeo’s mum Barb. She’s a complex character – seemingly all smiles and care at first, then increasingly drunk, sly and two-faced (calling Julie stuck up behind her back but desperate to keep her on hand to help raise the baby), and Aaron weathers these swings deftly.
Callum Scott Howells (Romeo) and the Romeo and Julie cast at the National Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner
The production reunites Owen with director Rachel O’Riordan, with whom he worked on both Iphigenia in Splott and Killology. The two are wizards at making stories feel immediate and shattering. At the same time, this hyper-minimalist production is quick to remind us at all times that it’s a piece of drama. There are few props on designer Hayley Grindle’s stage, save for a table and some chairs, and when not actively participating in a scene, the performers sit at the back of the stage in darkness, but still within our sightline.
Lighting designer Jack Knowles’ beams of squiggly lines and circles hang above the stage, alluding to Julie’s interest in the cosmos and also, perhaps, the sheer randomness of compatible souls like hers and Romeo's finding one another out there in the world.
Those in the auditorium who didn’t end up with their first love might feel a growing sense of dread as the pair’s infatuation with one another threatens to sway their life’s choices. But even if the play’s later conversations, between Julie and her stepmum in particular, veer into clichés, there’s a sense everyone wants the best for each other here, even if the star-crossed lovers can’t achieve it by staying together in Splott.
|What||Romeo and Julie, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
14 Feb 23 – 01 Apr 23, 7:30 PM – 9:45 PM
|Price||£20 - £60|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|