By Aline Mahrud
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: 18 February, opens 21 February and runs through 1 April 2023 RUNTIME: 135 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)
Callum Scott Howells (Cabaret. Playhouse Theatre) proves what a versatile actor he is in this story of a single young father struggling to bring up a young child and cope with an alcoholic mother.
- Read on for reasons including how this is really the story of the injustices of the education system
Set in Splott, Cardiff, Romeo and Julie is written by Gary Owen, from Pembrokeshire, Wales who won an Olivier for Killology, a three-hander about a computer game that rewards players for creative killing in 2018.
It’s a complete switch in character for Scott Howells from Cabaret‘s crazed EmCee and more similar to his kind-hearted Colin Morris-Jones in Channel 4’s It’s A Sin although his Romy here speaks in a grittier way, is massively sleep deprived and can’t quite bear to put his daughter Niamh into care despite the urging of his mother that he can’t cope not least because she is unwilling to help because her parenting days are over.
Despite Scott Howells’ star being in ascendant this turns out actually to be very much the story of Cambridge-bound Juliet (given a feisty and very strong performance by Sheehy) who meets Romy and offers to help daughter Niamh as part of the volunteering work she needs to boost her Cambridge University application.
It’s a conceit which doesn’t feel clunky and enables these 2 very disparate characters from very different backgrounds to rub along together and eventually fall in love to enable its titular Shakespearean reference to be explored as Juliet’s parents insist she no longer sees Romy fearing it will jeopardise her education.
Juliet’s parents Col (a stubborn Paul Brennan) and Anita Reynolds’ Kath are well drawn and oddly the show’s most moving moment and the 1 which rang most true was carer Kath’s soulbearing about the injustice of going the extra mile to give care to people when she is paid only for devoting 20 minutes a day to people who are dying and have no other people to look after them.
Rounding out the cast is the impressive Catrin Aaron whose portrayal of Romy’s difficult mother Barb is detailed and nuanced enough to make it feel real.
Director Rachel O’Riordan (Scandaltown, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith) gives us a spartan set and we enjoyed the fluidity of movement deployed between scenes as the cast switch sets.
Sheehy and Scott Howells are both impressive and this is occasionally funny but ultimately this story is really about the injustices of the education system and as such isn’t quite as involving as we would have hoped.
But it is a new play in an authentic Welsh setting which is confidently realised and definitely worthy of your time.
- Main picture via Facebook courtesy National Theatre Tickets
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