- Romeo and Juliet
Performed in the tiny fifty-seat basement studio of Leicester Square Theatre, with a cast of eight playing just eleven roles, and with the entire performance exactly "two hours' traffic of our stage" (including a fifteen minute interval, although the Prologue was among the many lines omitted), Ruby in the Dust's Romeo and Juliet took full advantage of its small scale, which allowed emotionally powerful and naturalistic performances, constantly in close-up, without the need for acting to the gods. [End Page 521]
Key to the production was director Linnie Reedman's skillfully and heavily cut and rearranged text, which served the dual purpose of fitting the script to its small cast and supporting the relocation of the play to the Verona of 1938, when Mussolini's race laws first banned the intermarriage of "Aryan" Italians and Jews. With only occasional interpolations ("the day is hot, the Blackshirts are abroad," "consort'st with Romeo, a Jew," "and that Il Duce must give") and three original songs to help set the scene, this was a radical abridgement rather than an adaptation of Shakespeare's play, and Reedman's text was mostly coherent and consistent within its new period setting. The historical Blackshirts routinely carried knives and celebrated the heroism of hand-to-hand combat, so the absence of guns in fight scenes made sense. Anti-Semitism was less dominant in Italian fascism than in Germany, so it seemed reasonable that the affable, old-school "Count" Capulet might accept Romeo's presence, rather than spark murder and mayhem amongst his guests, while the Blackshirted Tybalt and Paris—previously seen threatening sexual violence against the Jewish Montagues (taking the servants' lines from 1.1)—were more hard-line Jew-baiting, Nazi-influenced thugs. The problem of Shakespeare's neutral prince was dealt with very effectively, by simply cutting most of his lines, and reassigning those that were still needed to Capulet or Paris. Whenever Shakespeare's characters would have spoken of the offstage Escalus, they referred instead to Il Duce.
The fascist scenario served to give freshness and meaning to some of Shakespeare's lines at moments that would have been lost in a more traditional modern-dress production. The Nurse's claim to "speak no treason" became full of danger in a dictatorship where treason was punishable with death, and Mercutio's "I'll be hang'd, sir, if he wear your livery" was significant when addressed to a Tybalt in full uniform. Capulet's ambivalent relationship with his daughter was well established by an introductory scene that showed Juliet, attending a Capulet rally in the uniform of the Piccole Italiane (the Italian equivalent of the Hitler Youth), performing an athletic display with a hoop. Clearly drilled, concentrating on every move, and finishing with a fascist salute, this Juliet was initially a puppet of the adults around her, underlining the restrictions that she would later try to escape. Her father's attitude in subsequent scenes, shifting between tender consideration and condescension, fatherly pride and violent domination, seemed to spring from this bifurcated fascist attitude towards youth, which considered young people something to be celebrated for their purity, innocence, and potential (as future mothers and warriors in the brave new world of fascism), but at the same time demanded their total obedience to the hierarchy of family and state. [End Page 522]
Chris Gee's imposing Capulet was the most significant beneficiary of Reedman's textual revision and direction, which made his relationship with Juliet the second most important in the play. After his introduction at the head of the...