(Alfred Hickling's article ran in the Guardian, November 5.)


A Tender Thing

Northern Stage, Newcastle 

At the age of 28, Ben Power has become the most in-demand script-doctor in the country. As literary associate for Headlong Theatre, he has overseen provocative rewrites, including the insertion of the Chapman brothers into Marlowe's Dr Faustus, and a version of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author set in a reality TV studio. His debut Royal Shakespeare Company commission is a radical Romeo and Juliet that depicts the characters in old age.

Though the words are all Shakespeare's, the scenes have been shuffled and speeches reattributed to produce a wistful meditation on an enduring – though apparently childless – marriage. Such an approach runs the risk of becoming a pointless game of consequences. There was, after all, a reason why Shakespeare chose not to write the story of Hamlet's decisive reign or King Lear's comfortable retirement. Yet the deaths of the star-cross'd lovers does feel horribly premature; and Power's ingenious reorganisation grants them the maturity they are otherwise denied.

That it pays off so handsomely is not simply due to Power's creative mastery of cut-and-paste, but to an entrancingly spare production by Helena Kaut-Howson that so fleetingly skips through its shifts of mood and logic you wonder if you might be dreaming it. The illusion is further enhanced by Neil Murray's animated design of floating gauzes and the Debussyian textures of John Woolf's chamber score.

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