Feisty Juliet Commands the Stage
Four years ago, the Stratford Festival opened their season with a juvenile Juliet who giggled like a child. In contrast, this year’s Juliet is a feisty, headstrong young woman.
It’s interesting to compare Stratford’s productions of Romeo and Juliet over the years. The 2013 version stepped back in time to present it based on “original practices”. It was as much like Shakespeare’s version in Elizabethan England as possible. The lighting moved across the stage as if they were in an open theatre and the sunlight was moving through the sky. Daniel Briere as Romeo and Sara Topham as Juliet played the characters as youngsters, presenting the roles the way Shakespeare originally cast them.
Then in 2008, Gareth Potter was Romeo and Nikki M. James was Juliet. Romeo roared in on a motorcycle in t-shirt and jeans. Instead of the balcony, Juliet stood on a cobblestone bridge.
Going back to 1996, I saw a wonderful production, with Antoni Cimolino as Romeo and Megan Porter Follows as Juliet. They were the perfect star-crossed lovers. Antoni Cimolino is now Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, and Megan Porter Follows is, of course, famous as Anne in the Anne of Green Gables movies, among many other movie and TV roles. That remains my favourite, thanks to the romantic chemistry between the two.
And going way, way back – Romeo and Juliet was the first play I saw at Stratford as a child – with, get this, Christopher Walken as Romeo. Impossible to think that the “more cowbell” guy was once a handsome young Romeo.
Romeo and Juliet is the story of the two “star-crossed lovers” who meet, fall in love, and marry in a very short time. Due to a family feud, Romeo feels it necessary to avenge the death of his friend Mercutio. He kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, and is banished from the country. As part of the plot to keep their marriage secret, Juliet takes a sleeping potion to appear dead. Romeo assumes she is dead and takes poison, then Juliet wakes to see the dead Romeo and kills herself. While it is rich in romance, this play comes to a very tragic conclusion.
It is often the casting choices that make or break Romeo and Juliet, and this year, Stratford Festival has hit the mark with Sara Farb as a very spirited Juliet. Farb is a favourite, thanks to her portrayal of Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank in 2015. Then last year, Farb’s lusty performance in A Little Night Music stole the show. She continues to command the stage as Juliet. You can’t take your eyes off her.
Similarly, the Nurse, played by Seana McKenna, demands your full attention. You don’t want to miss any of her humour. McKenna brings the comic relief in a very refreshing way.
Antoine Yared’s performance as Romeo seems unbalanced. He is strong enough to take on Tybalt (Zlatomir Moldovanski) in a sword fight in response to the death of Mercutio (Evan Buliung), yet when he learns he is banished, he howls like a baby, curled up on the floor. The crying goes on for so long that the audience laughs at him. I’m uncomfortable with the notion that to have a strong female lead, the male lead must be weak.
Seeing the classic Romeo and Juliet on the stage for the fifth time doesn’t dull the story. It is still a draining tragedy where the stupidity of feuding is emphasized. The message about senseless killing remains overwhelming, especially in light of today’s terror attacks. If only humankind would learn from Shakespeare.
Romeo and Juliet continues in repertoire until October 21st at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Marion Adler as Lady Capulet, Sara Farb as Juliet, and Seana McKenna as Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Romeo and Juliet – 2017
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Scott Wentworth
Performed by Sara Farb, Antoine Yared et al.
Stratford Festival Production
Festival Theatre, Stratford
June 1 to October 21, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson