"Romeo, [and] Romeo …'
Ah, a second performance within the twelve months we have lived in Lancaster
– this is impressive, since the
first production was in the open air, and this one in the very different
space of The Nuffield
at the University at Bailrigg. In so many ways, the two productions
could hardly have been more different.
Using the versatile space of the Nuffield to create a level performance
area with raked sating on two sides rather than the ‘proscenium'
arrangement for Habeas Corpus,
the action took its violent course in a fittingly minimalist setting.
This was no sentimentalised Branagh/Di Caprio or BBC costume drama production,
but one where iambic pentameters meet Quentin Tarantino. Not since productions
of plays by Irving Welsh in Yorkshire have I seen such stark, powerful
brutality so well depicted on stage.
"From ancient grudge …'
Director Danny Price took a contemporary and ‘in your face'
approach, complete with grunge music, spiky hairdos, ripped jeans and
chains. This was no cheap ploy, but an earnest and highly successful
attempt to emphasise the murderous activities of what was in effect
gangland Northern Italy. It was reminiscent of the battlefields of the
Catholic / Protestant divisions in Northern Ireland, or the war-torn
conflict in the presently unholy Holy Land. Scenes of inter-community
bloodshed such as Shakespeare set in Verona are almost daily news in
our larger cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.
… "to new mutiny'
So maybe because I have spent most of my life in such a large city I
was much moved by the graphically-choreographed deaths of the outrageous
and sexy Mercutio (Kavin Pammeechao) along with Tybalt (David Woodhead)
which brought the first half of this production to an end. But there
was more to come; the slaying of Paris (Tom Lavin) towards the end followed
by the deaths of the two heroes were also convincing.
What about the love bits, you may wonder. They were limpidly, poetically
and erotically handled by Matt Schmolle and Amy Stapleton in the title
roles. They were ably supported and nurtured, in a welcome cosmopolitan
manner, by an enigmatically European Friar Laurence (David Tripepi)
and the Nurse, deliciously played by Khaliah Walker.
Interestingly, and I thought convincingly, the scene-setting Prologue
and subsequent Chorus speeches which introduce and intersperse the action,
were delivered with superb and mature authority by Chris Slater, who
also played Escalus, the Prince of Verona. In fact, the diction was
excellent throughout, even in the noisy brawl scenes (where delivery
never descended into mere shouting) as well as in the quieter and more
Unfortunately, I noticed several times that the voice of one of the
cast would rise at the end of a sentence as if it were a question (in
the Australian manner). This is truly deplorable and a popular manner
of speaking in some circles, but should be avoided at all costs in the
theatre, certainly in theses circumstances.
A "vortex of evil'
In stark contrast to the love story and comedic elements, I had a strong
feeling of continuing descent deeper into a vortex of evil, and Lavin's
portrayal of Paris was one of the most Mephistophelean manifestations
of human wickedness I have seen in a long time. No-one is spared this
in the text; the garrulous Nurse gradually becomes muted and the faiths
of Friars John and Laurence must have been sorely tried as the course
of carnage moved inexorably forward.
Even Escalus, the play's lone figure of authority and good, is
sore affected. On a corpse-littered stage, Slater spoke the final three
lines of the play:
Some shall be pardon'd and some punishèd:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
and these moved me yet again to the tears I had already shed for Mercutio,
Romeo and Juliet. Acted, staged and produced so intelligently and perceptively,
the whole production was an extraordinarily powerful and moving experience.