Employing “original practices,” the techniques developed at London’s New Globe Theatre to simulate the acting style of Shakespeare’s time, Stratford’s Romeo and Juliet de-familiarized a well-known text and produced cognitive dissonance for an audience accustomed to theatrical technology and bravura acting. The production’s focus on oratorical delivery of language rather than realistic characterization highlighted comic moments, downplayed romantic ones, and emphasized the destructive role of patriarchal power. With Mary Stuart, Stratford joined the revival of interest in the play that began at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 2005, and seized the opportunity to turn an unfamiliar classic into a contemporary commentary on power, gender, and politics. In contrast to director Tim Carroll’s original practices in Romeo and Juliet, Antoni Cimolino’s staging of Schiller’s Mary Stuart relied upon Peter Oswald’s colloquial translation and nuanced modern acting to bring irony and poignancy to a struggle between masculinized political power and female identity.
While Romeo and Juliet exploited the text’s comic moments to engage the audience, it also created the feel of a romantic world doomed by patriarchal vitriol. Rather than the opening sonnet, the production began with blue-liveried Capulets entering to explain original practices, then segued into the opening brawl when red-clad Montagues arrived to claim the right to deliver the prologue. The dispute erupted with the famous thumb-biting insult, and male bravado moved from comic mockery to violence. Patriarchal spleen ironically upset a central sign of the domesticity it alleges to preserve when the fathers of the feuding families grappled brutally, rolling around the stage floor, and ultimately spilled a pannier filled with bread that a comic baker tried to protect as swords and fists whirled around him. [End Page 279]
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Direct address, a staple of original practices, sometimes made the audience uncomfortable either because it violated the romantic expectations about the portrayal of the lovers or else it forcefully emphasized the destructiveness of patriarchal pride. The balcony scene was a good example of overturned romantic expectations. Rather than Romeo staring love-struck at Juliet, Daniel Briere’s Romeo entered center stage, stood below Juliet, and delivered his well-known lines—some to her, and some to the audience as he turned his back to his beloved. Emphasizing Romeo’s boyish brio, this delivery drew some laughs; it also produced murmuring among those looking for a more intense, passionate encounter between enraptured lovers. In addition, the oratorical style seemed to short-circuit interiority, producing characters who appeared to lack emotional complexity. While Sara Topham and Briere as the titular lovers projected youthful inexperience with love, perhaps because of the declamatory style of original practices, neither seemed to mature, even when confronting death. Topham’s Juliet vibrated anxiously as she debated quaffing Friar Lawrence’s potion; yet her decision to drink was more a concession to priestly authority than dedication to profound love. Breire’s Romeo seemed nonplussed approaching the apothecary, like a teenager savoring the thrill of performing an adult deed rather than a man confronting death.
The original-practices style, with its broad and bold directness, seemed to highlight the destructive role of both familial and spiritual patriarchy. Tom McCamus’s Friar Lawrence was both plot agent and moral center, a spiritual father trying futilely to calm Verona’s destructive emotions. When he moved center stage proposing a solution to end the ancient grudge, McCamus’s height, erect carriage, and rich baritone commanded the scene. With a distraught Romeo, he represented paternal authority, mocking his whining as “womanish” and goading him to take action. Later, lantern in hand illuminating the carnage in the tomb, his astonishment turned to fear and his quick, furtive exit ironically unmanned him, proving him as womanish as the...