Thursday, July 26, 2012

'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare

26 July 2012

The final performance of the RSC Open Stages National Showcase was an amazing production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Rugby Theatre, directed by Robert Sloan. In this version, set in contemporary Britain, when the Capulet boys first taunt the Montagues in the street it is a shockingly brilliant moment as the Montagues shout back at them in Polish. Portraying the Montagues as an immigrant Polish community, played by Polish-speaking actors, gives the play a fascinating modern slant. The Polish characters sometimes speak Shakespeare’s text translated into Polish (but retaining the rhyming couplets!) but mostly they speak in Polish-accented English. Most believably, at the times of greatest emotion they naturally slip back into their native language. The Rugby Theatre production was excellently acted. Romeo was muscular, tattooed and shaven-headed but betrayed a childish vulnerability. Juliet was outstanding – tiny and clearly very young she was excitable, naïve, emotional and totally believable. This was a very funny production with some assured and witty comedy in the scenes featuring Mercutio and Benvolio (here a tall, bleached-blond Polish girl). The Nurse was played almost as a pantomime dame, appearing in more and more outlandish costumes. Yet it was also an incredibly realistic production: you could feel the angst of Romeo’s Polish-speaking parents and the knife-crime violence of the gangs was frighteningly real. Rugby Theatre made good use of Jon Bausor’s set for the RSC production of ‘Twelfth Night’ (reviewed here in March 2012), Mercutio dangling his feet into the pool of water at the front of the stage and characters getting temporarily stuck in the eccentrically angled revolving door. The biggest audience of the RSC Open Stages National Showcase almost filled the lower levels of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and rose to a spontaneous standing ovation at the end of the evening. It was a brilliant end to two wonderful weekends of amateur theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon: ordinary people: extraordinary performances!

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