Romeo and Juliet – Stratford Festival 2013

A Time-Warped Romeo & Juliet

In 1992, I took a reluctant group of young women, students in a Communications class I was teaching at the now-defunct Centralia College, to see Romeo and Juliet at Stratford Festival. Antoni Cimolino, currently Artistic Director at Stratford, was the handsome young Romeo, and Megan Porter Follows, of the movie version of Anne of Green Gables among many other films, was the beautiful Juliet. The students became converted Shakespeare fans, leaving the theatre sobbing at the deaths of the stars and the heartbreak of this tragically beautiful production.

No one left the theatre in tears after seeing Romeo and Juliet at the 2013 opening of the Stratford Festival. If anything, the audience walked out singing and dancing with the final number – yes, that’s right, (spoiler alert) Romeo and Juliet rise from the dead and dance.

Director Tim Carroll has created the 2013 version of Romeo and Juliet, based on “original practices”. He has tried to re-create this great romantic tragedy as it was presented in Shakespeare’s time, at England’s Globe Theatre sometime in the early 1600s.

When folks went to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, it was a big outing. The rich folks sat on benches up inside the circular walls, while the poor folks sat on the dirt floor around the stage. Everyone brought along their bread and wine and made a day of it. In the dirt floor were trenches, called vomitorium (plural vomitoria) which came in handy if one spent the entire day imbibing under the hot sun. (The runways where the actors enter and exit at the Stratford Festival are still called “voms” today.) The Globe was open to the sky, and plays were only performed in the afternoon to take advantage of the sun light.

This is the feel that Carroll is trying to recreate as he opens Stratford’s 61st season. As in Shakespeare’s day, the actors wander onto the stage and chat with the audience before the show. We are warned to turn off any devices not yet invented, and that the drawing of portraits is not permitted. But that repartee ends abruptly when a sword fight begins between the Montagues and the Capulets.Romeo  Juliet Stratford 2013 (2)

The show begins and the audience is still fully lit under the bright lights. It seems strange when we are so used complete blackouts before a show. Stratford’s intricate lighting system does not appear to be used during the production, although the bright light is supposed to move slowly as if the sun was crossing the sky.

The female characters are dressed, not in flowing gowns of Italy, but in the heavy brocade of Elizabethan England. The men wear pleated bloomers and tights, along with neck ruffs. The clothing is what people wore in Shakespeare’s time; not the style of the Italian setting.

The idea of original practices was abandoned in one area, thank goodness. Women play the female roles in this production, not young men and boys as they did in Shakespeare’s time.

The rhyming iambic pentameter seemed accentuated, and I can only assume the actors were coached that way, in the belief that it was originally presented in the sing-song fashion.

Other than the unique “original” value of the production, the highlights are found in two characters: Jonathan Goad’s Mercutio and Kate Hennig’s Nurse. Goad’s interpretation of the Shakespearean language makes him stand out, and Hennig brings her humour to the nurse.

Romeo (Daniel Briere) and Juliet (Sara Topham) play the roles as the children they were intended to be. Topham is a juvenile 14, giggling her way throughout. Briere also seems very immature, smiling inappropriately much of the time – whether he’s in a dangerous sword fight or planning his suicide. As a result the audience is not invested in their relationship; in fact, they seem to be infatuated school kids with crushes. No chemistry, no real love is evident.

The cast presented a song between the acts, and a live band, not amplified, played Shakespearean style – a lute, violin, recorder and drum provided the music. As I mentioned above, Romeo and Juliet rise from the dead and dance a final number, along with the cast. If you were living in Elizabethan England and had saved your pennies all year to attend this one big outing, the actors didn’t want to send you home feeling sad. Any comedic moments throughout the show were played up, and once the tragedy was over, they tacked on a little song and dance routine to cheer you up.

So, would I take a class to see this version of Romeo and Juliet? Yes, but not an English class – it might be an interesting lesson for a History class.

Romeo and Juliet continues in repertoire until October 19 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check  www.stratfordfestival.ca

See the sword fight between Tybalt and Mercutio:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxgwgO2hg3Y

Romeo & Juliet
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Carroll
Performed by Daniel Briere and Sara Topham
Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford
May 27 to October 19, 2013
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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