Romeo & Juliet| Curtain Up Reviews Mar 2001
The latest in a long line of Romeo and Juliet productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company gives
a new and lively interpretation of this most produced play of Shakespeare's repertoire. I think that director Michael Boyd's
Romeo and Juliet may be known as "the one with the feet".
We know that protestation of new love is extreme
and amusing to all except the lovers themselves. In this Verona, Juliet raises many a laugh and sometimes laughter drowns
out some of her lines. It can be argued that we know what those lines are, in any case. Juliet (Alexandra Gilbreath) spends
the balcony scene lying on top of a high curved wall, her bare feet twitching in excitement and pleasure, her legs waving
around in the air. Juliet bangs her head repeatedly on the wall to "Romeo Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo?" The idea is to
convey euphoria and it is different and rather silly. David Tennant's Romeo is more staid than the flighty Gilbreath, although
he too has his moment of soaring avowal.
The crowd scenes are well presented, the opening fight leaves one of the
cast permanently wounded and bandaged and a bloodstain on the wall remains throughout. Through this violence and confusion
walks the lit figure of white shirted Romeo, speaking the prologue, oblivious to the commotion. This is very effective staging
of some of Shakespeare's beautiful verse.
Alfred Burke's Prince is a very old man with spindly legs and two black
sticks dressed in last year's fashion of doublet and hose, totally unable to control the warring families. Exciting choreography
for the ball scene has Paris (Nicholas Khan) and Juliet dancing a version of the stylised but sensual Volta with Juliet's
eyes never leaving Romeo's face. What stood out for me in this production was seeing the role of Juliet's bullying and physically
abusive father as the catalyst of the tragedy, Capulet's (Ian Hogg) insistence on the early marriage to Paris. This seems
to offend not only all women who do not feel themselves to be at their parent's disposal but also those still in mourning
for Tybalt, (Keith Dunphy) Juliet's cousin. Boyd places the figures of Tybalt and Mercutio (Adrian Schiller) above the stage
in the first ghost scene I remember seeing in Romeo and Juliet. These two swirl in as Juliet takes the potion reminding
us of the unknown she embarks on. They appear again as Romeo is told of Juliet's death. Mercutio mirrors Juliet's balcony
scene as Romeo takes the apothecary's poison.
The ensemble performances are of a very high standard. I particularly
liked thin faced, red haired "Prince of Cats" who seethes with anger. Mercutio plays his part with much irony and is less
jovial than usual, Juliet taking the comic honours. Eileen McCallum's Glaswegian nurse is common, vulgar and garrulous. Only
when Capulet is raging at his daughter does she lose her tongue. Gilbreath is slightly old to play Juliet, her voice is quite
husky but she has the depth to make the switch from being madly in love to full blown tragedy. David Tennant is a sincere
Romeo, a handsome, sympathetic hero.
Tom Piper's set is minimal, a pale honey gold marble apron and two curved walls
which do not move. A trap serves for the Friars herb garden and for Juliet's tomb. The curved walls are lit from the bottom
in blue and purple and red to vary the scene and gives the production a modern feel. The costume is largely period but with
gelled spiky hair. All of the Capulets are plunged effectively into black dress after Tybalt's death. The citizenry wear scarves
wrapped about their faces when the plague threatens. Live music adds to the atmosphere.
Michael Boyd has implemented
some welcome, fresh ideas for the three hour "traffick of our stage".