Romeo and Juliet

Tue 14th – Thu 23rd February 2012

reviews

Kate Samuelson

at 19:01 on 15th Feb 2012

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I went to see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on February 14th, thinking it would be the perfect Valentine’s Day date. The timeless story of two lovers unable to be together due to the century-long rivalry between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets, has always been a favourite play of mine and I was interested to see Thrice-Three Muses theatre company’s self-proclaimed ‘lesbian version’ of the tale. I have seen many interpretations of Shakespeare’s classic romance, from Baz Luhrmann’s award-winning film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, to open air productions at the Regent’s Park theatre near my house, however nothing I have seen before quite prepared me for last night.

Three and a half hours long, this production was far from the story I know and love. Set in the modern day, the actors wore contemporary clothing, which instead of giving it the grimy edge I think was intended, made it often seem as if audience members had randomly decided to participate. The modern ‘twist’ did not stop at attire – current pop music ranging from Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ drug-fuelled dance track ‘We Found Love’ and the unbearably irritating ‘Moves Like Jagger’ by Maroon 5 accompanied the scenes demanding a large cast: guests at the Capulet ball grinded and gyrated to the gritty auto-tuned noise of Katy Perry.

Along with modernised clothing and music, details of the plot were changed too, most prominently being that Romeo, in this production, was played by a girl and referred to as ‘she’. A lesbian ‘Romeo and Juliet’ seems an interesting enough idea, however, sadly what could have been a controversial and remarkable adaptation to such a traditional tale, ended up seeming completely irrelevant. Aside from referring to Romeo in the feminine form, the fact that he was played by a she was insignificant in the storyline, making the change seem more like the company could not find a male actor to be Romeo, so just brought in a girl instead.

Despite describing themselves as being ‘committed to providing a constant programme of high-quality, relevant (to today's society) productions’, Thrice-Three Muses fell short of making ‘Romeo and Juliet’ relevant and realistic. The efforts to make the play modern were half-hearted, as the script remained fully Shakespearean, with no aspects of it modernised or abridged (unfortunately). The point to the contemporary clothing and music and unusual lesbian tangent was lost, as so many traditional aspects of the story remained, turning the production into a melting point of unfinished fragments of ideas.

That said, the play was enjoyable, and the cast were remarkable, consisting of twenty-two members who appeared to range between 16 and 60 years of age. The acting was mainly commendable, the main parts having an impressively large number of lines to remember. There were multiple noticeable errors, from cast members cutting each other off, to Juliet banging her head on a centre-stage light, however, it being the first night of the production, these mistakes can be excused. I did enjoy this unusual production, however I would warn potential audience members to choose to sit on a chair as opposed to a bench seat when they enter the theatre, as after three and a half hours I deeply sympathised for the backs of those who had chosen the latter.

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Thomas Brada

at 19:46 on 15th Feb 2012

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This contemporary production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Bierkeller Theatre is a show with plenty of ambition, but ultimately lacking in professional finesse. The theatre company, Thrice-Three Muses, have decided to remain largely faithful to Shakespeare’s original script, and consequently the show is a fairly laborious, almost four hour affair. The production’s length is its ultimate downfall; an audience can often struggle to remain fully engaged with shorter pieces at more professional venues, and this production has somewhat overestimated the patience threshold the average audience possesses.

The show attempts to inject a potentially exciting twist to the conventional ‘Romeo and Juliet’, as the passionate love affair is developed as a lesbian relationship by casting a female Romeo. This device functions well to an extent, as the audience is able to further perceive the concept of the transcendent love which Shakespeare emphasises in the text; their love holds no regard for familial disputes or the societal pressures which still affect homosexual relationships. However, the production does relatively little with the inversion of the conventional love affair. Apart from several calculated pronoun changes from ‘his’ to ‘her’ and the cameo appearance of a rainbow flag at the couple’s hasty marriage reception, the production largely ignores the issue and the other characters react rather apathetically to the situation which could otherwise be used more emphatically as a means of further elevating the play’s glowering tension.

The play is performed in the traverse with a raised stage at the far end of the theatre. During various scenes the characters occupy the centre of the stage and are flanked by the audience with whom they directly interact and weave amongst - a device which functions well to involve the audience with the action and increase their sense of engagement. Unfortunately, the production fails to capitalise on these more engaging moments, as towards the latter end of the play the majority of the action takes place at the far end of the theatre. From such a distance the interactive intensity is often lost and it is difficult for the audience not to become detached from the action.

The cast of local Bristolian actors have invested a lot of effort and emotion into their characterisations. Most notably, Benvolio is portrayed with a quiet authority and the audience sympathises with his unsuccessful attempts at being peacemaker for his more emotionally tempestuous friends. Mercutio is also performed with a petulant charm as he swaggers around the stage with a nonchalant air of superiority, until his confidence is swiftly undercut in his confrontation with the hostile Tybalt.

Thrice-Three Muses’s production showcases a lot of heart, which is not quite matched by ability. Scenes are generally a little clumsy and overly long, however the ensemble local cast have put in a lot of emotional effort into their characters; a feature which comes across to the audience and almost lifts the production from its otherwise mediocre standards.

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