- Romeo and Juliet
[End Page 525]
Rupert Goold's vertiginously exciting production of Romeo and Juliet began with what seemed like a pro forma announcement by management for the audience to turn off mobile phones and to refrain from taking photographs. The woman in modern dress who had so forewarned the public was a "guardian of the sacred," as it were; as she exited, she handed an audio-guide to a chap sporting a "hoodie," black jeans of GAP vintage, and a digital camera. He had wandered into what was arguably a crypt, where votive candles burned behind a gate and religious music played in the background. This hypothetical tourist, who turned out to be Romeo, switched on the electronic device which responded first in Spanish, then in Italian, and finally in accented English: "Dos casas […]; Due case […]; Two households […]." The entire Prologue was spoken as a voice-over; it was as though our latter-day tourist had stepped back in time in Verona's cathedral, while simultaneously preserving the present by snapping pictures of his surroundings—including the very audience that had been cautioned against doing the same.
The first forty lines of the play were cut, and we were thrust immediately into a violent street brawl between the rival houses of Montagues and Capulets, all lavishly dressed in doublet and hose. Smoke rose up, flames erupted behind a back scrim and from a center grille, loud timpani resounded, swords clashed, chains clanged, men fought with men, women tore at each other. Tybalt climactically tied Benvolio to a stake, stuffed his mouth, and was about burn him alive when the Prince's men entered with modern fire extinguishers to break up the fight. This was a volatile world, symbolically defined by the plethora of daggers and knives Lord Capulet produced from inside his boots (to titters in the audience) when asked to throw "mistempered weapons to the ground." Visually, it was an auto-da-fe, Catholic universe, perhaps more inquisitorial Spanish than Italian (as the program notes made clear)—torch-lit and filled with streams of smoke and sheets of fire.
Romeo, still in his modern casual attire, (re)emerged after the brawl to speak of "a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes" and to show off digital photographs of his beloved Rosaline; the fire burning within seemed all the more intense considering the conflagration that had erupted in Veronese streets moments before. Juliet appeared in 1.3 sporting Converse All-Star trainers and robotically twirling a glow-stick whip; were her seemingly senseless gyrations a way of mentally spinning around with indifference her "dispositions to be married"? By the final scene, however, Romeo and Juliet's costumes had moved back in time. She lay still in her grave in a corseted, white wedding gown/shroud with a surrogate period ruff, and he [End Page 526] had donned a monk's hooded habit (though he mixed poison in a plastic water bottle, whose crinkling resounded incongruously as the drink took effect and the waking Juliet fatefully wiggled her toes unnoticed; and in his GAP attire he had been a mirror image of the Apothecary, as if united in complicity in a latter-day, mortal drug deal.)
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