Thursday, 4 December 2008

R and J

As Uncle Matthew (in Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love) remarked after a long-ago performance of Romeo and Juliet: 'It was all that damn padre's fault....'

Unlike Uncle Matthew, I wasn't gulping back sobs at the end of the RSC's latest outing of the star-cross'd lovers. But I was in full sympathy with him regarding the dodgy plot device that brings on the play's tragic denouement.

R and J end up dead, not because of some deeply ingrained flaws in themselves or those around them - but because Friar Lawrence's postal service goes to pot. If only his message had got through, Romeo would have known that Juliet wasn't really dead - and all the hideous hoo-ha of the final scene could have been averted.

Neil Bartlett's production is striking to look at, done out mainly in black and white, with a 1950s film-noir feel to it.

There's a hint of minimalism as well. The lovers are denied a balcony for that so-famous scene. I felt a teensy bit short-changed. With the characters on the same level, the scene falls a bit, er, flat.

Loads of stylish choreography to the violence and sword-play, setting up a sense of a male-dominated culture, where love and tenderness have little chance of flourishing among so much mindless devotion to macho codes of honour.

The young actors playing the eponymous lovers are fresh, ardent and touchingly vulnerable. Top marks for diction as well.

But, oh dear, how everyone shouts. If you like a lot of acting for your money, this show offers terrific value. Histrionics aplenty. Arms are waved, documents abused, chests beaten, foreheads slapped, railings walloped. A wildly hysterical Friar Lawrence leads the way, redefining the notion of 'OTT'. Oh brother!

If only the director had asked his actors to calm down just a wee bit. Subtlety was in short supply. For me, it's always a bad sign when I 'm yearning for an actor to deliver a few lines of verse simply using his or her voice. Give those hands a rest!

Mind you, I think any director who is brave enough to take on this difficult play deserves a medal.

In my opinion few of the Bard's shows are are more difficult to present convincingly. Next to Romeo and Juliet, King Lear is a piece of cake.

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