Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Romeo and Juliet and the problem of staging "Original Practices"
Sara Topham as Juliet, Scott Wentworth as Capulet, Wayne Best as Montague and Daniel Briere as Romeo. Photo by David Hou

By now thanks to Franco Zefferelli or Baz Luhrmann 's film versions or even West Side Story , we all know the plot of Romeo and Juliet. A prolonged hatred between two Verona families, the Montagues and the Capulets, has erupted, with rival households brawling in the streets. One night, Romeo, a Montague, crashes a party given by the Capulets in order to meet up with a young woman called Rosaline, with whom he is infatuated, but when he catches sight of Juliet , daughter of the head of the Capulet household, he is entranced. Juliet is equally smitten, but her father has other plans

Director, Tim Carroll , tries to apply "Original Practices" as practiced at London's Globe Theatre (where he is associate director). This translates into an attempt to replicate some Elizabethan theatre conditions. On the formidable thrust at the Festival theatre, it involves 16th-century costume, house-lights on throughout the play, and minimalist furniture beyond obligatory bed and tomb. Another oddity is that the actors buttonhole the audience individually. This seems a waste of the Festival's impressive, hi-tech properties.

Daniel Briere, Sara Topham. Photo by Don Dixon  Romeo and Juliet, photo by Don Dixon  Sara Topham as Juliet and Daniel Briere as Romeo. Photo by David Hou  Tyrone Savage as Tybalt and Jonathan Goad as Mercutio. Photo by David Hou

In this setting, Romeo is played by Daniel Briere, Juliet by Sara Topham, Mercutio by Jonathan Goad, Lord Capulet by Scott Wentworth, and the Nurse by Kate Hennig. The set, designed by Douglas Paraschuk, is Tanya Moiseiwitsch's Stratford original.

Tim Carroll uses his Director's Notes (This Wooden "0") in the program to help explain his strategy: "Soon after I arrived here to start rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet, Antoni Cimolino showed the company The Stratford Adventure , the National Film Board documentary about the first season of the Festival. It was an inspiring reminder of the passion and talent that went into the making of this incredible place. Above all, as a director about to embark on a Shakespeare play, I was struck by the intense love of everyone involved for the plays of the man from the other Stratford. It filled me with a determination to do something on the Festival stage that would reflect its founders' passion."

Jonathan Goad as Mercutio, Kate Hennig as Nurse and Mike Nadajewski as Peter. Photo by David Hou " Tyrone Guthrie and Tanya Moiseiwitsch were, of course, pioneers. But they did not come from nowhere. Guthrie was following in the footsteps of William Poel , who had, earlier in the century, suggested an experiment: why not perform Shakespeare in the conditions for which the plays were written? The heart of the idea was a call for a theatre where the words were primary and where the first task of the space was to create a powerful relationship between the actors and the audience. At the same time that Guthrie was talking to Tom Patterson and others about such a theatre, Sam Wanamaker was talking to people in Southwark about his version of William Poel's ideas. Of course, being Britain, the idea was rejected, and the dreamer laughed at, until 1997, when the Globe finally opened. Having been lucky enough to work there since its third season, I have spent a lot of my working life experimenting with Shakespeare on a bare stage. When I started there, I had never directed an Elizabethan-dress Shakespeare: one of the great revelations of my life has been the discovery of Original Practices."

Sara Topham as Juliet and Antoine Yared as Paris. Photo by David Hou "We can never, of course, recreate a performance of 1595 in every aspect; that is why I never use the word authentic. But I love the idea of an imaginative leap in time and thinking. To try to understand how such clothes were worn, and why, to research and learn when hats would have been taken off or swords drawn - to get inside all the references in the text - is to feel that one is getting closer to the mind of Shakespeare and the world he wrote for and about. It is a world which is at the same time very like ours and utterly different. So too the conditions in which his plays were performed: on the one hand, Romeo and Juliet would have been played without electric light, or sound, or scenery; on the other, it would then have been played by human actors to a human audience, as it will be today."

Tom McCamus as Friar Laurence. Photo by David Hou "Guthrie dreamed of an Elizabethan stage where the actors could really talk to the audience, as they would have done at the Globe. Taking my cue from that first impulse that brought Guthrie here, I have staged Romeo and Juliet as though it were indeed an afternoon performance in an Elizabethan playhouse. The light will not change to suit the scenes, any more than the scenery will move to reflect new settings. We will know where we are, what time of day it is, and everything else from the starting point of Shakespeare's theatre: the actors and the words they speak. "

It's a huge risk by Carroll, and given Stratford's myriad resources and many refinements which go to waste, perhaps much better suited to smaller theatrical companies more pressed for funds and equipment. The sword fight scene such as that between Tybalt and Mercutio might work well on a bare stage, but beyond that, we miss the accoutrements.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, directed by Tim Carroll plays in the Festival Theatre until October 19.
See or 1-800-567-1600.

Romeo and Juliet | Star-crossed Lovers | Stratford Festival

Romeo and Juliet | Production Trailer | Stratford Festival

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