When people think about Shakespearean plays, they usually think “boring”, “too long”, and “hard to follow”. The combination of arcane language and obscure similes and metaphors make Shakespearean English sound like a foreign language. Finding the true emotion behind the words becomes a challenge when one cannot decipher what the words mean! Consequently, viewers can’t relate to the characters or their circumstances. Also, in many Shakespearean plays, actors tend to declaim their lines like a speech instead of just “talking” with each other. This lack of naturalness makes the audience switch off since the chasm between the text and felt experience seems unbridgeable.
The Court Theatre’s current production of Romeo and Juliet definitively smashes all of those negative preconceptions to bits so that people leave the theatre raving about the play, and exclaiming, “Wow!!! It was so much better than I thought!”
Here are the reasons the play deserves its laurels:
1) Stand-out performances – The actors are extremely well-cast. Romeo (Cameron Douglas) has the verve, high spirits, and passion of West Side Story’s Tony. Cameron Douglas is a superbly versatile actor. He never overplays his part but is always consistently true to character. He depicts Romeo as a young, eager, enthusiastic lover full of bright-eyed zest for a newfound love. Watching him evolve from young buck to depressed and suicidal lover was amazing.
Newcomer to the Court, Natasha Daniel, who plays Juliet, was feisty, feminine, and vulnerable, delivering a performance that was full of pathos, tenderness, and strength.
Bawdy Mercutio (Jonathan Martin) was electric and seemed to relish his role as the ribald, witty, cynical, fiery friend and confidant of Romeo. Romeo describes Mercutio as “A gentleman, that loves to hear himself talk and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month.” Jonathan Martin’s fluency in the language saw him rattle off his lines with lightning speed as though Shakespearean English were his native tongue. Impressive!
Yvonne Martin, as the nurse, was flawless. Like very expensive wine, she only gets better with age.
Tom Trevella (Capulet) and Kim Garrett (Lady Capulet) have a way of demanding your attention when they come onstage so that it is impossible for your attention to wander. Their facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, etc. convey the distilled intensity of their emotions. Such a pleasure to witness professionals doing what they do best and obviously loving it! Even the minor characters, like the page who played Peter (Jack Marshall), were well-cast.
2) The actors obviously put in a lot of work to understand what their lines were meant to convey. As a result, they could converse naturally and fluently with one another, communicating the meaning of their words through their actions. Even if you don’t understand the arcane language they use, you are always aware of what they mean. Tremendous help when watching a Shakespearean play.
3) The play was skilfully edited down to 2.5 hours. Without any editing, it would have run for 3.5 hours, which would have been a real test for modern-day attention spans. Even at 2.5 hours, time flew by so quickly, you weren’t aware of the length of time you were in the theatre. Thoughtfulness and skill in the “literary surgery” was evident and welcome.
4) Attention to detail was brilliant. Costumes were luscious and opulent. The set was cleverly designed and versatile. Having an actual balcony for the famed balcony scene, was a real treat. Lastly, small gestures like the courtly hand-to-heart bow given by the players to each other every time they moved a piece of furniture on stage, added grace, elegance, and cohesion to the production.
5) Ross Gumbley’s direction was, as always, superb. As the audience, you sense that nothing was left to chance, and that everything that could have been done to guarantee the pleasure and ensure the comprehension of the viewing audience was done.
The play is filled with humor, passion, youthful vitality, pathos, and drama.
BRAVO, Court Theatre!!! With productions like this, you could very well create a new fan base for the Bard!
Romeo and Juliet
May 20 – June 30, 2015
The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch, NZ