Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Romeo and Juliet

Drama Department Aberystwyth University , TFTS Aberystwyth , October-27-03
The University of Wales, Aberystwyth Department of Theatre, Film, and Television Studies’ production of Romeo and Juliet, playing at the Parry-Williams Building through this weekend, is a quietly emotional triumph. A million miles away from the bathos and clichés that sometimes inhabit productions of this play, the staging benefits from director Richard Cheshire’s bold blocking and the student actors’ strong objectives and detailed character studies.

While Heather Mason (Juliet) persuasively communicated a sense of the almost-fourteen-year-old in her speaking, yet without a hint of preciousness, some of the minor characters surprisingly stood out. The well-meaning nurse, whose coarse humour and ecstatic descriptions of Romeo say everything decorum forbids Juliet to articulate in public, is raucously and sympathetically played by Lydia Jayne. As Tybalt (James David Knapp) uses sharp eye contact and tense, elastic movements to show why he is called “the prince of cats.” Lord Capulet (Neil Jennings) displays patience and ease in public, yet proves an irascible, vicious demon at home. Jennings conveys both facets of this Jekyll-and-Hyde type well. Jennings outdoes his impressive performance as Macbeth last year. He is definitely an actor to watch as he emerges from student theatre. Finally, Simon Strain’s Benvolio lent the character an immediacy and centrality beyond the size of his role. Strain’s expressions and gaze as his eyes snap back and forth between the quarrellers who disregard his mediation efforts is riveting. His only objective is played strong and constant: this peacemaker’s optimism is as tragically complete as his powerlessness. As he runs out after Romeo’s banishment and just before the interval, he seems more sympathetic than the titular lovers. One minor glitch involved the actor who reports that Juliet was dead, but is “warm” and appears “new-killed.” He came to this conclusion rather quickly and with rather sparing astonishment, which seems odd as he has just witnessed what may be the first resurrection in Veronese history.

Cheshire has set this Romeo and Juliet in Spain or a Spanish-speaking Latin American country. The reason for this change of setting is unclear, but it allows the ensemble to sing a lot of Spanish dance and liturgical music, which they do beautifully, especially at the Capulets’ carnivalesque party. The set, designed by Kitty Porritt, Is sparse but evocative. An ‘alley theatre’ arrangement of the space divides the audience into two sections, replicating the polarisation of Verona’s Montagues and Capulets and forcing spectators to look past the characters at, literally, the people on the other side. I also especially liked the floor, which was painted a colour somewhere between orange and brown. In different scenes, under different lighting effects, it suggests bare earth, terra cotta, and blood. Juliet’s bedroom is converted into her sepulchre in a haunting procession scene.

The schoolchildren who see this production as part of the Schools Shakespeare Project should be at least as captivated by it as by Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation. In fact, the contrast between UWA’s streamlined fable and Luhrmann’s hyperactive, chaotic extended music-video suggests that with strong choices and a strong cast, less eye candy and audio clutter is in fact more.

* * *
Romeo and Juliet is co-produced by the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Any schools interested in participating in the Schools Shakespeare Project should contact Richard Cheshire on 09170 622837 or the Aberystwyth Arts Centre at 01790 622882.

Reviewed by: Rebecca Nesvet

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