MY expectations were high for this touring RSC production of Romeo and Juliet. Teenage knife crime is of grim relevance today, and the production played to this. The youth of many of the characters was also emphasised by the production, especially the Scottish Juliet.

The set itself was bleak in its rusted metal sheet monotony, with a hollowed out cube centre stage which could revolve and provide space for characters to perform within and on top of (it was a great relief in the Friar Laurence scenes when the back wall parted slightly to reveal a lush landscape).

The production was also notable for some gender-blind casting (an aspect of many recent Shakespeare productions, such as Tamsin Greig as Malvolia and Doon Mackichan as Feste in the National Theatre’s Twelfth Night), in particular Charlotte Josephine taking on the role of Mercutio.

Sad to say the experience was primarily one of disappointment. Dialogue could be rattled through with absence of feeling. The fight scenes, so crucial for the sense of threat, were rather feeble.

Several characters failed to engage, especially a rather non-menacing Tybalt. The gender-blind casting had no pay off in the case of Mercutio, as she was played as a tomboy anyway.

There were, however, some rays of light. Carrying the show was a sweet and sensitive performance by Bally Gill as Romeo. Bringing some much needed gravitas was Andrew French as Friar Laurence, while Ishia Bennison as the nurse did some heavy lifting and Beth Cordingly as Escalus cut an imposing figure. It was a shame that Josh Finan was unable to play Benvolio on the night.

It was telling that some audience members did not return after the interval. However, it was also clear the host of school pupils who attended the play obviously enjoyed it. Despite its shortcomings this is certainly a production that generates much discussion.

Romeo and Juliet is running at New Theatre until March 9.

By Shaun Tougher.