Romeo and Juliet 2024

The Ageless Love Story Returns to Stratford

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The world’s best known love story and possibly Shakespeare’s best known work is back on Stratford’s Festival Theatre stage. Romeo and Juliet, the timeless love story, is making its return.

You know the story: Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are “star-crossed lovers” who meet, fall in love, and marry in a very short time. Due to a family feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, Romeo feels it necessary to avenge the death of his friend Mercutio. He kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, and is banished from the country. So, Friar Laurance secretly marries the young couple. To avoid having to marry Paris as her parents want, Juliet takes a sleeping potion to appear dead. Due to a miscommunication, Romeo assumes she is dead and takes poison, then Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead and kills herself. While it is rich in romance, the play comes to a tragic conclusion.

This is the 6th time I have seen Romeo and Juliet on the Stratford Festival stage. With this production, director Sam White has gone back to basics. The stage is plain and simple, with just a few decorations for the masquerade ball. The balcony is the usual Shakespearean balcony, no ropes, no vines. A small bed rising out of centre stage is the only furniture.

In contrast, costumes are rich and colourful, with the Capulets in orange and red combinations, while the Montagues wear shades of green and blue, all in traditional style. It’s the lack of gimmicks or quirks in this show that I appreciate.

A quick history:  As a young child in 1968, I saw Romeo and Juliet, starring a young, handsome Christopher Walken and beautiful Louise Marleau. Yes, it was that Christopher Walken of Saturday Night Live’s “more cowbell” fame, and Marlowe, a well-known Quebec actress. I was very impressed!

Then in 1992, I took a group of college students to see Antoni Cimolino and Megan Follows. This is my favourite production. Cimolino is now Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival, and of course, Follows was famous as my beloved Anne of Green Gables. This was the most moving production I’ve ever seen. My students (mostly female) and I were in tears as we boarded the bus after the play.

The 2008 production was too gimmicky with a motorcycle on stage and a bridge instead of the balcony. Nevertheless, Gareth Potter and Nikki M. James (a Broadway star) gave good performances.

In 2013, the gimmick was “original practices” – an attempt to recreate the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare’s England. Bright lights remained on overhead, replicating the afternoon sun shining down. To leave things on a high note, Romeo (Daniel Briere) and Juliet (Sara Topham) rose from the dead and danced!

In 2017, Sara Farb gave us a feisty and strong Juliet, which worked well. But here’s the gimmick: Unfortunately, Antoine Yared was a weak Romeo, who curled up on the floor and cried like a baby when he was banished. I didn’t like the idea that a strong woman needed a weak man.

So it is refreshing to see Romeo and Juliet in the traditional sense. Jonathan Mason offers a solid performance and Vanessa Sears shines as Juliet. Glynis Ranney is perfect as Nurse, and adds some comic relief. Graham Abbey is excellent as Capulet, losing his temper with his headstrong daughter, but loving her at the same time. Scott Wentworth as Friar Laurence makes us believe that his plan with the potion will actually work.

In all, a Shakespearean favourite well presented and well cast, telling the story simply without gimmicks or quirks.

Romeo and Juliet continues in repertory until October 26 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca

Photo: Jonathan Mason as Romeo, Vanessa Sears as Juliet at the masquerade party. Photo by David Hou.

Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam White
Performed by Jonathan Mason, Vanessa Sears, Graham Abbey, Glynis Ranney, Scott Wentworth, Jessica B. Hill, Andrew Iles, et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
June 1 to October 26, 2024
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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