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Reviewed by:
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Susan L. Fischer
Romeo and Juliet Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. March 18–August 27, 2010. Directed by Rupert Goold. Set designed by Tom Scutt. Lighting designed by Howard Harrison. Music and Sound designed by Adam Cork. Coreography by Georgina Lamb. Music directed by Bruce O'Neill. Video and Projection by Lorna Heavey. Fights by Terry King. With David Carr (Escalus), Jonjo O'Neill (Mercutio), James Howard (Paris), David Rubin (Lord Montague), Simone Saunders (Lady Montague), Sam Troughton (Romeo), Oliver Ryan (Benvolio), Gruffudd Glyn (Balthasar), Peter Peverley (Abraham, Friar John, Watchman), Richard Katz (Lord Capulet), Christine Entwisle (Lady Capulet), Mariah Gale (Juliet), Joseph Arkley (Tybalt), Noma Dumezweni (Nurse), Dyfan Dwyfor (Peter), Romer (Cousin Capulet, Apothecary, Constable), Forbes Masson (Friar Laurence), and others.

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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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Mariah Gale as Juliet in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2010 production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Rupert Goold.

Photo courtesy of Tristram Kenton...


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