The exciting Acting Gymnasium, a weekly acting workshop, has arrived at the Theatro Technis with the immortal story of the star crossed lovers, but not as you have ever seen it before. This is a bang up to date version in look and voice.
This does cause some contextual problems however. If you are speaking in a rough modern idiom, does the mannered, clever, sophisticated text, written by William Shakespeare really make sense? Does the inclusion of Lord and Lady Capulet and Lord and Lady Montague make sense in a modern world? Do ennobled families have deadly enmities which spill over into violence in the local disco and murder on the dance floor? I don’t think so.
These problems were cleverly avoided in West Side Story by drastically changing everything. Locating it in New York, getting rid of lords and ladies, dispensing with Shakespearean English and just retaining the fights and love elements. That and beautiful music, of course.
In reality the task that Acting Gymnasium had set them selves is immense. Even the smallest of changes to the original, complex, Shakespeare text has consequences. If a vastly experienced director such as Baz Luhrman, with all of his available facilities, can end up making a film with well documented contradictions, then what can this company expect.
You can’t mess around with individual pieces of text without careful consideration. It is perfectly acceptable that the so called balcony scene does not take place on and under a balcony, it is inconceivable that the pivotal, beautiful speeches are changed to just throwaway pieces of conversation. Some of the lines were rushed through, too quietly spoken and unclear. I entirely missed “what light through yonder window breaks” though my daughter, with her younger ears, assures me that it was there, just under-emphasized.
The acting was of variable quality throughout. However Max Digby Carpenter as Romeo, Maeve Elmore as Juliet, John Celea as Tybalt and Dorian Hasani as Mercutio were excellent and well up to normal professional standards. One slight curiosity was that Juliet, who Shakespeare describes as fourteen years of age, both looked and acted like a real fourteen year old. Unusual and a little disturbing, but credit to Maeve for carrying it off.
The large, empty, performance space felt somewhat underused at times and the clarity of the spoken word was patchy. The lack of visual interest on the stage encouraged the audience to pay closer attention to the dialogue and soliloquies, further exacerbating their lack of verbal clarity.
Overall this is something of a battling failure but no one should be discouraged. Shakespeare is not easy and when a play is as well known and loved as Romeo and Juliet, changes to it will never please everyone. Add to this that there are some changes which might be thought to be somewhat flippant such as the cast dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and you might just as well have drawn a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
Whether Romeo and Juliet is right for modernization is anyway questionable.
Reviewed by Graham Archer
Romeo and Juliet plays at Theatro Technis until 25 February 2017