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A CurtainUp London Review
Romeo and Juliet
Goold's reimagining of this tale of star crossed lovers is to cut out the light and give a dark and occluded medieval Verona shrouded in mystery and the arcane. We stumble on Verona through the eyes of a modern day tourist armed with an obligatory camera and the prologue is spoken as if on a tape for visitors. The tourist visits the cathedral from which light is falling in a triangle of rays and suddenly is caught up in an exciting street fight between the factions of the Montagues and Capulets. Plumes of steam escape from the floor and flames flare up in a pyrotechnic fest in an animated crowd scene lit by flaming torches.
The tourist who is caught up in the melée turns out to be Sam Troughton the actor playing Romeo; he and Juliet are the only people in modern dress at the beginning of the play, maybe an allusion to the timelessness of their youthful story or to make them different from the crowd, isolated? The prince intervenes and all are commanded to drop their swords and daggers throwing them down onto the stage.
Black hooded monks with religious relics or trays of flowers carried above their heads place us in fifteenth century Italy and in the scene where Lady Capulet (Christine Entwisle) prepares for the ball, her turbaned servants are straight out of Ingres' famous painting of the bathhouse. While Lady Capulet talks about a marriage for Juliet (Mariah Gale) she plays with a light on a string whirling it wound to form a bright ring and she twirls it faster and faster while looking furiously at what her mother is proposing. A silent act of resistance. The choreography of the ballroom scene is memorable with group movement to a clapping dance with exaggerated hand movements and with Juliet dancing wildly in the centre.
Some of the verse is spoken unevenly. Mercutio (Jonjo O'Neil) is the most bizarre of all with a stilted delivery — and an Northern Irish accent playing for comedy which Tybalt (Joseph Arkley) counters with a Scottish accent. The diction generally is not always as clear as it should be and the height of the Roundhouse can suck up the onstage sound. (This production was originally staged at the purpose built Courtyard Theatre in Stratford).
I quite liked Mariah Gale's feisty Juliet and Sam Troughton's gap year student Romeo but there were times when the ensemble acting did not seem to measure up to Goold's ideas. This play should centre round the passionate love Romeo and Juliet have for each other and I wasn't convinced. Of course the casting would be limited by the already chosen ensemble who have committed to three years with the RSC. There is no doubt that Capulet (Richard Katz) is a bully to his daughter and his wife as he throws a glass of wine over Juliet while ordering her to marry Paris. The terror for Juliet is not a forced marriage but the sin, the act of bigamy. Lady Capulet looks distraught, her fashion sense destroyed, after the death of Tybalt.
The Apothecary (Patrick Romer) is like a modern day drug dealer and his arrival seems to herald a costume switch. The closing scene sees a change from historical costume for all except Romeo and Juliet where in their final scene Juliet wears a period wedding dress and Romeo a monk's disguise. In the graveyard the Veronans talk on walky talkies and use flashlight torches as the play returns firmly to the 21st century.
Rupert Goold's work is always worth watching for new ideas. However, with a guaranteed audience for the RSC in Stratford and London of schoolchildren studying this play for their public examinations, no RSC interpretation dare be too off the wall.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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