Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Romeo and Juliet - RSC @ The Roundhouse, Monday 20th December 2010


A Chorus introduces two feuding families of Verona, the Capulets and the Montagues. On a hot summer's day, fighting by the young men of each faction is stopped by the Prince who threatens the law. Capulet plans a feast to introduce his daughter, Juliet, who is almost fourteen, to the Count Paris who seeks to marry her. By a mistake of the illiterate servant Peter, Montague's son Romeo, and his friends Benvolio and Mercutio hear of the party and resolve to go in carnival disguise. Romeo hopes he will see his adored Rosaline; instead he meets and falls instantly in love with Juliet.

The Montagues are recognised by Juliet's cousin Tybalt and are forced to leave the party just as Romeo and Juliet have each discovered the others identity. Romeo lingers near the Capulet's house and talks with Juliet when she appears on her balcony. With the help of Juliet's Nurse, the lovers arrange to meet next day at the cell of Friar Lawrence when Juliet goes for confession, and there they are married.

Tybalt picks a quarrel with Mercutio and his friends and Mercutio is accidentally killed as Romeo intervenes. In anger Romeo pursues Tybalt, kills him and is banished by the Prince for the deed. Juliet is anxious that Romeo is late meeting her and learns of the fighting from her Nurse. With Friar Lawrence's help it is arranged that Romeo will spend the night with Juliet before taking refuge at Mantua. To calm the family's sorrow at Tybalt's death the day for Juliet’s marriage to Paris is brought forward.

Capulet and his wife are angry that Juliet does not wish to be Paris's bride, not knowing of her secret contract with Romeo. Friar Lawrence helps Juliet by providing a sleeping draught, and when the wedding party arrives to greet Juliet the next day they believe she is dead. The Friar sends a colleague to warn Romeo to come to the Capulet's family monument to rescue his sleeping wife.

The message is fatally delayed and Romeo, hearing instead that Juliet is dead, buys poison in Mantua. He returns to Verona and goes to the tomb where he surprises and kills the mourning Paris. Romeo takes his poison and dies just as Juliet awakes from her drugged sleep. She learns what has happened from Friar Lawrence but she refuses to leave the tomb and stabs herself as the Friar returns. The deaths of their children lead the families to make peace, promising to erect a monument in their memory.
Escalus, Prince of Verona – David Carr
Mercutio – Jonjo O’Neill
Paris – James Howard
Montague – David Rubin
Lady Montague – Simone Saunders
Romeo – Sam Troughton
Balthasar – Gruffud Glyn
Capulet – Richard Katz
Lady Capulet – Christine Entwhistle
Juliet – Mariah Gale
Tybalt – Joseph Arkley
Nurse – Noma Dumezweni
Friar Laurence – Forbes Masson
Creative Team:
Dierctor – Rupert Goold
Designer – Tom Scott
Lighting – Howard Harrison
Costumes – Rachel Dickson
Its very easy to write a review when you really enjoy a production, and its even easier when you loathe it (in fact, in these cases, the reviews more or less write themselves). What I find really difficult is writing a review when a production has been more or less OK. Its very difficult to express “meh” in words. In terms of both production ideas and performances, there some very good ones, a couple of completely acceptable ones and a couple of really naff ones. It took me a long time to warm to both lead roles, and I think only Juliet really convinced me in the end that she was worth the effort, eventually winning me over. It takes a skilled actress to convey the impetuosity of a hormonal teenager if not in real love, then in love with being in love itself, and I think Mariah Gale managed to convey this very well in a kind of bewildered, hair-chewing and moody way. I felt completely ambivalent about Sam Troughton’s Romeo for most of the evening, and that’s never a good sign. What was a really bad sign is that I thought Forbes Masson’s Friar Laurence completely lacking in any kind of authority - religious or academic - and found myself increasingly irritated by his bumptious jollity, his rather laissez-faire approach to religion and his forever bounding about the stage like a slightly podgy ginger Labrador anxious to please everyone. What this production needed was a still core about which the city of Verona whirled in turmoil, and not finding it in Friar Laurence, I found it in the unlikely form of Noma Dumezweni’s Nurse, who managed to convey a strong sense of “been there, seen it, done it”, which was a pleasure to watch.
I also enjoyed the central conceit of the production, in that Romeo and Juliet started out in modern dress, standing out nicely against everyone else who wore more or less “period-style” if not strictly period costume, This made them appear like ghosts from the future. At the end, both wore more or less period costume, with everyone else in modern clothes – to quote Tennyson’s The Princess “The present as we speak becomes the past. The past repeats itself and so is future”. What I would like to have seen done here was a more gradual slide from one period to the other in the costumes rather than an abrupt change. Practically all I remember of the first opera I ever saw (Verdi’s Falstaff, if you’re interested – bad choice of first opera to see, and which probably explains my ambivalence about opera to this day) was the way that all the characters started in 1930s dress, and on each successive appearance, their costumes became more and more Jacobean. I remember thinking at the time what a clever idea that was.
I was disappointed that, because of the “in the round” staging, much of the dialogue was lost through a combination of bad projection and bad acoustics. I was also rather disappointed that the opening idea wasn’t developed any further – Romeo listened to the opening “In fair Verona where we lay our scene” speech via a recorded narration on headphones, almost as if he were a modern day tourist seeing the sights of the city. Another clever production idea was to have a rose window lighting effect projected onto the floor, the design of which was exactly the same as the metal grating cover in the middle – love may raise us up to heaven but pull us downwards into hell. This Verona was not drenched in blazing sunlight but composed of torchlit alleyways and shadowy courtyards. It was particularly nice to see the “Balcony scene” done completely from Romeo’s point of view – the acting area was in total darkness lit only by the light streaming from the window above. When Romeo climbs the balcony and he and Juliet finally get some major snog-action going, the entire wall surrounding the window lights up with the kind of sunburst you get surrounding Christ in Renaissance paintings. This was the only time that daylight shone on Verona, which I think was meant to echo the line in the closing speech about “The sun, for sadness, will not show His head”. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise how clever the lighting was. It’s a pity that I came away not feeling as impressed with some of the performances – I still maintain that Romeo and Juliet is an incredibly difficult play to pull off successfully, and I don’t think the RSC have quite managed it yet, at least as far as I’m concerned. But then we all know how difficult to please I am.

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