By William Shakespeare
Performed by Gareth Potter and Nikki M. James
Directed by Des McAnuff
Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production
Festival Theatre, Stratford
To November 8, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
More Tragedy than Romance
Thank goodness for Stratford veterans Lucy Peacock and Peter Donaldson. Without them, Romeo and Juliet now playing on the Festival Theatre stage would be very short on substance. Lucy Peacock plays the Nurse who has raised Juliet and continues to care for her. Peter Donaldson is Friar Laurence who sets the tragic chain of events in motion.
The Montague and Capulet families are feuding. Young Romeo Montague is infatuated with Rosaline, and goes to a costume party, hoping to see her. But instead he is captivated by the beautiful Juliet Capulet. They fall in love, despite the fact that their families are embroiled in a gang-like revenge war. Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt and is banished. Friar Laurence secretly marries the young couple and they spend the night together before Romeo leaves the country. Juliet’s family wants her to marry Paris. To avoid the arranged wedding, Juliet takes a potion that puts her into a deep sleep so everyone will think she’s dead. Then she’ll wake up and steal away with Romeo. But Romeo believes she is dead and he drinks poison. When Juliet wakes up and finds Romeo dead, she, too, kills herself.
The roles of Romeo and Juliet are very demanding in this tragic love story. While Gareth Potter is adequate as the lovelorn Romeo, Nikki M. James falls short with Juliet. She is both difficult to hear, and difficult to understand. Her inexperience with Shakespearean English is evident and the language is garbled. Without good communication, it is impossible to build the necessary chemistry between Romeo and Juliet.
Donaldson, with his superior interpretation of Shakespeare, keeps the plot moving and Peacock as the Nurse provides the comedy. She makes the Nurse’s babble coherent, and uses it to comedic advantage. The first act is full of humour, much of it on the naughty side. The jokes are crowd-pleasers and the play holds promise. Unfortunately, as the plot begins to unravel in the second act, so does the presentation.
The costume decisions are a little off-putting. The story begins with modern dress. The young men appear wearing jeans and t-shirts. But when everyone goes to the costume ball, they appear in Elizabethan dress: the men in tights with exaggerated cod-pieces, presumably to add to the bawdy humour. They stay in Shakespearean costumes, even those who did not attend the costume ball, until the end of the story when they reappear in today’s clothing. While the Shakespearean costumes are beautiful and colourful, puzzling over the changes is a distraction.
The set, too, is distracting. If any Shakespearean play demands Stratford’s plain, thrust stage with the balcony in the centre, it’s Romeo and Juliet. Instead, a fake-looking cobblestone bridge spans the stage, which just doesn’t work for the famous balcony scene. It seems as if the Stratford stage is being turned into a regular proscenium stage, which defeats its purpose.
Megan Follows’ Juliet in 1992 left a lasting impression. At the end of her performance, the audience was drained, and many left the theatre wiping tears from their eyes. This production doesn’t allow us to feel that emotion.
Romeo and Juliet continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until November 8. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.ca.