Romeo and Juliet.
Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre,
Stratford-upon-Avon. March 26 - October 8, 2004.
Sheffield Hallam University
Wilkinson, Kate. "Review of Romeo
and Juliet , performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, March 26 - October 8, 2004". Early
Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 11.1-6 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-2/revwilk.html>.
Directed by Peter Gill. Set by Simon Daw. Costumes by Deirdre
Clancy. Lighting by Hartley T A Kemp. Music by Terry Davies. Sound by Jeremy
Dunn. Fights directed by Terry King. With Leo Wranger (Prince), Gideon Turner
(Mercutio), Jonathan Forbes (Paris), Sion Tudor Owen (Montague), Anita Booth
(Lady Montague), Matthew Rhys (Romeo), Trystan Gravelle (Benvolio), David
Hargreaves (Capulet), Emily Raymond (Lady Capulet), Sîan Brooke (Juliet),
Tam Mutu (Tybalt), June Watson (Nurse), John Normington (Friar Laurence),
The idea of buildings and houses was central to this
production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford-upon-Avon, both visually
and in the passages of text emphasized by the characters. The cream stage
was dominated by a neo-classical balcony, and images of architecture from
a similar period covered not only this free-standing wall (which acted
as Capulet house, Friar Laurence's cell, and definition between inside
and out), but also the side and back walls of the stage itself. They covered
it, that is, except in places where the plaster had crumbled away, giving
the stage a sense of dilapidation perhaps brought about by the feud between
the two 'houses'. There was also the sense, conveyed through the crumbling
plaster and the age of the architecture, that we were looking at a ruin:
death and doom were emphasised from the beginning of the production. That
said, the first act had many light-hearted moments, notably from Mercutio,
the Nurse and the bumbling Friar Laurence.
The first half of the production was characterised by
innocence. The lighting was bright, as were the costumes: primary red
for Capulet and blue for Montague. The costumes were essentially the same
for both sides: Elizabethan in period, and modified only by a scarf for
Romeo which highlighted his youthful melancholy. Everything was playful
at this point; the first brawl on the street was comic, as was Mercutio's
Queen Mab speech. Mercutio himself wore purple, highlighting his royal
links but also placing him firmly between the two warring factions; his
behaviour and mannerisms suggested a bit of a dandy. The seriousness of
his 'plague on both your houses' speech was a contrast to this, and highlighted
the tone's beginning to change as he lost both his innocence and life.
Juliet was the epitome of innocence in this production,
and hence the character who underwent the greatest change. When we first
met her she was very childlike, her young years emphasised by both her
nurse and mother, and she revealed her childishness through giggles and
by wringing her hands in her apron. The oranges and pinks she wore also
highlighted her youth next to the red of her parents and cousins. Juliet's
first meeting with Romeo was rushed and the balcony scene was unfortunately
unconvincing and lacking in chemistry. Romeo stumbled back and forth across
the stage, spending most of the scene discoursing to the audience about
Juliet's beauty while hardly looking at her.
The whole tone of the production changed after the
deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, summed up in the powerful line from Romeo:
"Now I have stained the childhood of our joy" (3.3.52). Peter
Gill used the interval as a marker to emphasise the death of childhood
and childish naivety as the bright lights went down on Tybalt's body.
When they came up again, it was to grief-stricken characters. The anguish
of Romeo and Juliet showed a great depth in the characters not seen during
the first half: Juliet matured rapidly, visibly, and believably when she
thought that Romeo was dead. It is significant that the balcony remained
onstage throughout; the memories of Romeo's wooing and the concept of
duty to the 'house' of Capulet were evoked by its imposing presence and
gave a sense of inevitability to what befell Juliet in particular. In
this context of death and separation, however, rather than adding light
relief the continued comedy from the Nurse, Friar Laurence and Peter was
Matthew Rhys' Romeo was unfortunately unconvincing
in his passion, first during exile in Mantua and later on hearing of Juliet's
death. His lack of believable emotion at those times though was displaced
by the deep tenderness with which he lifted the 'dead' Juliet up through
the trap door grave that acted as the vault, a slight echoing of his words
confirming the scene change.
Essentially, this was not a bad production and there
were some good performances, notably from Sîan Brooke as Juliet
and Gideon Turner as Mercutio. However, there were times when the company
seemed too large, and the actors wandering over the stage, for example
during the feast and scene changes, diminished the mood by encouraging
the audience to laugh. The theme of innocence and experience being found
by youth through parental conflict was central to this production but
was not always executed effectively, rendering the production not as moving
or devastating as it could have been.
Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2004-, Matthew
Steggle (Editor, EMLS).