Matthew O’Sullivan has directed a very solid production of Romeo & Juliet for the Globe Centre, using pared-back staging that relies on performance and using his comparatively small but enthusiastic cast to good effect. Using a production design he refers to as “modified renaissance”, O’Sullivan has populated his Verona with characters clad in both jeans and laced-up period costumes. Yet this was not nearly as mismatched as it might sound. In fact, although the programme note professes a goal of “universality” and highlights these fleeting modern elements of the production design, this interpretation of Romeo & Juliet is actually quite a traditional one. Pleasingly so.
Once upon a time productions of Shakespeare were highly formalised, mostly conforming to a perceived “traditional” way of doing things that led to a relatively standardised performance style. With an emphasis on period costuming and anglicised enunciation (although with little real basis in Shakespeare’s own production conditions), the dominant style of Shakespearean production was mired in the 19th Century. Thus it became the quest of performers the world over, and locally of John Bell in particular, to cast aside these stultifying conventions and seek a new dynamism for new generations. A primary technique is the use of modern dress, or if not explicitly modern then at least fanciful or evoking a more recent period.
For those of us who have grown up after this revolution, however, more “traditional” stagings are so rare (outside of London’s reconstructed Globe) that now they are in themselves a novelty. Indeed, modern dress Shakespeare has become the new hegemony, and although I like modern Shakespeares as much as the next punter, to see a production such as this with faux-Renaissance production design and energetic swordplay seems like a breath of fresh air compared to the endless productions that cast the Capulets and Montagues as rival street gangs or battling ethnic groups.
Romeo & Juliet has a very solid cast. Especially good are the imposing Anthony Hunt as the Prince and the Chorus, and the fierce Alan Faulkner as old Capulet. Both displayed considerable nuance in roles that can often become obscured by mere bluster, managing to bring some sympathy to these harsh authority figures, as well as having an excellent naturalistic-sounding grasp of the language. Noteworthy as well were Les Asmussen as Friar Lawrence and Diana Denley as Juliet’s Nurse, the latter taking a somewhat less overtly comical approach than one usually sees, allowing the text to speak for itself.
Matthew Hyde as Romeo and Ella Rimington as Juliet make an attractive young couple to be sure, but it is pleasing to see that the roles have been cast with acting ability in mind rather than just their pretty faces. Although perhaps not quite as strong as some of the more experienced actors in the cast, both delivered good performances and successfully brought their potentially tedious parts to life. Hyde did a good job of portraying the overly romantic and frequently hysterical Romeo, although occasionally his histrionics appeared a touch ripe. He did an excellent job with the fierce stage-fighting, consumed with a palpable rage whilst both delivering and receiving some convincing blows.
Rimington, although actually 20, seemed perfectly cast as the almost-14 Juliet. To whatever extent she might look her real age in the light of day, her fine performance more than compensated and her Juliet was the very picture of a (relatively) innocent teenage girl: full of shrieks, giggles, wide-eyed astonishment, impatience, petulance and the rapture of infatuation. In fact, her portrayal of a particularly, well… girly Juliet was, like the wider production itself, a rather refreshing throwback after having experienced so many dubiously sassy, supposedly streetwise interpretations of the heroine over the years.
To be honest, although I love this play, the title characters of Romeo & Juliet often alienate me, as does the frequent suggestion that their love was a pure and tragic one that should have succeeded were it not for their “star-crossed” circumstances. Rather, I’ve often felt that the story, although tragic, also seems to contain something of an indictment of the intemperate young couple and their series of rash decisions. This production left the play open to interpretation as both a genuine tragedy and possibly even a cautionary tale.
For a good production which is atypically traditional (and all the better for it), check out The Globe Centre’s Romeo & Juliet.
The Shakespeare Globe's Company of Players presents
ROMEO AND JULIET
by William Shakespeare
Bondi Pavilion Theatre | Queen Elizabeth Drive, Bondi Beach
Wednesday 30 May – Saturday 23 June 2007
Wed – Sat @ 7.30pm; matinees: Friday 1, 8, 15, 22 June @ 2pm; Wed 6, 13, 20 June @ 2pm, Tuesday 5, 12, 19 June @ 11am; Thursday 7, 14, 21 June @ 11am
Adult $36; Concession $30; MEAA & Students $25
1300 306 776 or www.mca-tix.com