Photo: Marc Brenner

We’re big fans of the National Theatre, and we’re always keen to see what they’re programming in their Dorfman Theatre space (the smallest of the three venues they have) as we’ve frequently seen exciting new works premiere there. Romeo and Julie, a brand new play by Gary Owen and starring It’s A Sin’s Callum Scott Howells opposite Rosie Sheehy in the lead roles, seems an intriguing prospect; a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s classic play with a modern twist focusing on timely issues such as class and social mobility.

We’ll start with the positives: we’re big fans of Callum Scott Howells and he shines here as Romeo. He’s an extremely likeable actor and has expert comic timing. We see a number of important issues being considered as part of his story arc, mostly focusing on inequality and the impacts of social deprivation – whether he’s struggling as a single teenage dad or trying to look after his alcoholic mother, these matters are depicted sensitively and believably. He has great chemistry with Rosie Sheehy, playing Julie – we invested in them and their struggles to make things work.

However, we did have some issues with Romeo and Julie. Ultimately it all feels a bit too low-stakes – when considering the original source material on which this is based, we see an epic tragedy reduced to something that, by and large, amounts to a tale of teenage silliness. Opportunities to consider certain issues with more nuance – like Julie’s brief interaction with a privately-educated girl, which could have considered class and wealth as barriers to education and ultimately social mobility – are thrown away all too quickly. It often feels like there’s too much focus on the petty squabbles of young lovers while we’re barely scratching the surface of the more interesting issues alluded to here.

It still makes for a perfectly enjoyable evening – the acting is solid, there are plenty of amusing jokes, our leading pair have a strong on-stage chemistry and there are a handful of heart-warming moments. But it very much feels like Romeo and Julie could be so much more than it currently is; we left the theatre thinking this has the ingredients of a great play, but this production isn’t fully realising that potential.

GAY TIMES gives Romeo and Julie – 3/5

More information can be found here.