Emma Rice vowed to exit Shakespeare’s Globe with “all the bells and whistles”. She failed to mention the nipple tassles, a rendition of the Village People’s YMCA and a walk-on role for Godzilla.
A new production of Romeo and Juliet has opened, marking Rice’s final season as artistic director after an acrimonious split with the company board. She recently said the board does not respect her artistic vision.
If board members were unhappy with her previous productions, they may be apoplectic about this one.
Dancers in PVC and nipple tassels gyrate as two nuclear warheads loom overheard. A ball scene has been transformed into a fancy dress party, complete with Godzilla, Goofy and the Invisible Man. Juliet’s father wears a dinosaur costume, and the cast dance to YMCA.
Strobe lighting and pounding dance music feature heavily in the play, directed by English National Opera’s Daniel Kramer. Artificial lights and sound amplification were the board’s chief complaints in the row that forced out Rice.
The Telegraph’s critic, Dominic Cavendish, likened the production to “a failed Red Nose Day sketch” and said Kramer was “cocking his leg” at the Globe’s history.
The Stage said the show “waggles its posterior in the face of the purists”, while the review for the theatre website Whatsonstage said it was hard to shake the feeling that Rice and her team were behaving “like squatters facing forceful eviction”.
The Evening Standard said: “Violent and irreverent, it seems calculated to upset the purists. It’s surely no coincidence that it contains the very elements that led last year to Rice’s much-debated disagreements with the Globe’s board.”
However, some audience members shared positive thoughts about the play.
Launching the production earlier this year, Kramer said he planned “to light the theatre on fire – metaphorically.”
The fight scenes involve inflatable baseball bats, before taking a darker turn into guns. Kate Waters, the production’s fight director, said the 1999 Columbine High School massacre was an influence.
“It’s great to do something that isn’t the standard rapier and dagger fight with guys in bloomers,” she told Whatsonstage when describing the modern-day setting.
“The Columbine shootings are a reference for us. That’s because we are living in a world of conflict and terror and the fact that when a fuse ignites people can do terrible things.
“I’m not sure if the audience would recognise the fact that the Columbine shootings have influenced us just from watching the play. It’s more like something that was helpful while working on the piece.”
Romeo and Juliet will be followed by Twelfth Night, which Rice has described as “Love Boat meets Margaret Thatcher”.