‘Beauty hath made me effeminate’

Our first Stratford day trip was to see Romeo & Juliet. I can’t recall the last time I saw a live production of the play. I liked a lot of things about this production – stripped down of what has become Stratford’s re-imaginings to freshen things up – no floating masked ball dancers, no setting it in war torn Africa- it was bare bones production in fine Elizabethan costumes. This was a preview performance and as such it was clear where the production needs lots of work.

knock knock
knock knock

Clever opening with Capulet guys giving the audience the run down – please no electronic devices, etc. – then Montague guys coming out to do the same thing & the first sword play results. The fight choreography was excellent & there was a fair bit of it. The courtly dance moments were great.

It was clear that the “old hands’ (Tom McCamus, Scott Wentworth) are more comfortable with the meter and rhyme of the text than the newer company members. The first act pacing needs to be tightened up. The two most compelling characters (Mercutio, Tybalt) are dead by the end of act one. The second act opened with the cast beautifully singing a Latin madrigal – a fitting hymn for the deaths of Mercutio, and Tybalt. The pacing was good and performances, for the most part, were better.

who's there
who’s there

Sara Topham as Juliet was excellent. I found Daniel Briere as Romeo a bit of a snooze – more perplexed than agonized, more infatuated than enraptured – for someone who causes the deaths of five people (spoiler alert: including himself) I would had expected more stage presence even in a preview.

One benefit of this pared down presentation is that the language was paramount. I see this Romeo as a young man caught up in trying to do the right thing and falling in love in the process. But when he says ‘O sweet Juliet, Thy beauty hath made me effeminate.’ – I realized he was a young man looking for someone to blame – in this case Juliet – for his actions.

mind the step
mind the step

The final bows turned into a ‘lord of the dance’ opportunity for the cast to kick up their period heels – this lively jig dispelled, for me, any sense of the tragic ending.

Overall a solid, if uninspiring, preview production that should be called Juliet and Romeo.

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