Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Romeo a Juliet

Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October 29, 2004
The choice of producing a Welsh-language version of Romeo and Juliet was met in Wales with much puzzlement, especially considering that the originalís power stems from the rich language that Shakespeare used, namely that of his own transcending use of English.

It was with more puzzlement therefore as I sat through the performance to note that this production company has attempted to mirror the same language type and structure, translated notably by JT Hughes in the seventies. Surely this is one of those perfect examples of a play meant to be read rather than used. In the act of translating Romeo and Juliet, one understands that the curiosity of the reader stems from how the translator has gone about the task.

It is unlikely that there is hardly anyone on this planet that has access to a theatre, will not know what the story is about. The translation therefore does not open the play to new audiences but rather to perceive itself in a different form.

It is a very strange decision indeed and I am still not sure as to what possible reason this may have had. Romeo and Juliet is near to perfection as any play can get in its original guise and the thousands of productions it has enjoyed is testimony to the vision it creates in production companies and audiences alike. I have seen it in many different forms Ė as an opera, film, art and even a cartoon and each one brought new meaning through the gorgeous language.

What, therefore, can a literal translation offer? It really has no validation. I was dismayed when I heard the proposal for the production but then, I can only assume out of hope, perked up at the possibilities it offered. The setting in Wales gave ample opportunity to stretch the meaning of this boundless play, I can think of dozens of scenarios to which this play could be imprinted which has a relevance to Wales which one would assume would be the main perogative of a Welsh national theatre.

Yet the only glance that this company gave to any kind of dual lordship in Wales was that of graffiti being scrubbed off after the interval, and that graffiti was Saes (in this sense, a derogatory word for an Englishman). An opportunity missed I must say.

The acting was reasonable though a stronger Juliet (Rhian Blythe) might have been advisable, Blythe was very capable, but maybe not for this role. I have always felt that Juliet is the stronger of the two characters and it is she that drives the play, so for her to play second fiddle brings the dynamic of the characters into question, and makes Romeo (Lee Haven Jones) in turn seem like a love-sick schoolboy, rather than an enraptured slave to love and lust.

To this end the relationship between them did not work and the whole crux of the play was lost. Owen Arwyn made a solid attempt at Mercutio, though some lines were lost due to his comic aspirations in the speed of his projection and delivery, but nevertheless a worthy actor to attempt this highly defined character. Christine Pritchard stole the show with her portrayal of the delightful Nurse and offers another insight into her talents, I would dearly love to see her in a proper comic role.

The direction, however, was neither here nor there, I could see no discernable pattern of movement nor use of space. The sparring of the language should be mirrored in the jousting of the bodies, which was not in evidence. And on this point the actual swordfighting scenes bordered on the comic, and I did hear titters from the audience. My reaction, however, was quite different. If the swordfighting scenes didnít work then why keep them as they are? However, surely a national theatre company can muster talent enough to serve up a tasty sword-fighting scene? At times the actors had their backs to the audience while speaking and occasionally had difficulty in delivering a line without scuffing their feet. The projection of some of the actors was appalling and now and again I really couldnít understand or hear them while others mumbled through lines - it was as though the actors did not want to be on the stage and were embarrassed at what they had to do.

These are not signs of a well-directed play nor did it convey a confidence in the actors. But there were problems from the start, the diminutive Tybalt and Queen Escalus, who had a very manly presence (who mysteriously had a sex-swap in this production) might have done well to swap roles. The predictable chess board lay-out was another major flaw of the production as was the curious delivering of some lines in English.

Romeo and Juliet was the sex, drugs and rockíníroll of its time and you have to honour that by emboldening the passion of the play. Unfortunately, for me, it was a damp squib. The passion was in no way convincing, Romeo at times seemed more attentive to his own vanity and Juliet didnít really get into the role. A plague on both their houses indeed.

Reviewed by: Dafydd Prys

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