As the crowd walked into the theatre room at the New Diorama on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 it was soon understood that this was not going to be a “normal” interpretation of Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet. First thing, that seemed peculiar was how the performers were warming up on stage while the audience walked in. They appeared completely unfazed by the audience’s presence and continued to warm-up by stretching, making strange noises and listening to music. The first thought that entered my mind was that it seemed unprofessional and to a certain degree rude. My ideal of theatre has always been professionalism, beauty, art and perfection. That is not what I felt when I first walked through the door.
Though my first impression was negative, it quickly transitioned to understanding the dynamics between the performers and the audience. Rebecca Jones, writer of the Younger Theatre, explained, “But that’s precisely the atmosphere that The Faction is plunging for: we are part of their ensemble from the offset as we enter the auditorium to the company’s vocal warm-ups, semi-supine stretches and banter.” Interestingly, this foreshadowed the intimate relationship that the audience would continue to have with the performers, such as, undressing and changing their clothes on stage during the show. I stand on the argument that something that seems bizarre and not normal may lead to a larger view and understanding. Furthermore, through the creativity, originality, resourcefulness and level of performance skills displayed I would recommend this version of Romeo and Juliet to everyone.
The Faction, which is the theatre company for this production, main goal focuses on interpreting classical texts with contemporary aesthetic to appeal to audiences of all kinds. This was demonstrated as soon as the play began by the modern-day pop music that kicked off the show followed immediately by fight music. Words were not used for the opener, but instead music and lighting. Susan Elkin, writer of What’s on Stage, conveyed how “Lighting Designer Chris Withers has had a lot of fun with this show which is imaginatively and atmospherically lit especially during the vault scene at the end which makes effective use of candles and tiny spots.” It is safe to say that the production focused more on the creative arts of the play than anything else did. In addition, to truly modernize this interpretation of the play the costumes used were simple, plain and the typical clothing worn by young adults in the 21st century. From the purple sweat suit, that the nurse wore to Romeo’s short-sleeve button up it became evident that the cast wanted to introduce a more cool, relax and hip version of the tragedy; honestly, even the Friar wore jeans!
Aside from the choice in costume, the age group chosen for the play is relatively young. To make this story seem more realistic and at the same time accurate, I believe the director chose a young cast to capture the true essence of what Shakespeare was trying to deliver. Looking at the actual ages of the story, Romeo is 18, Juliet is 13 and even Paris is around 23. In saying that, it is imperative to see that young people based many of the bad situations that occurred off idiotic decisions.
Furthermore, adding youth to this version allowed younger audiences to relate and understand the complexity behind the tragedy. Not only were the costumes young, hip and relaxed and the cast at a surprisingly young age, but the acting itself displayed childlike behavior. For example, during Romeo and Juliet’s famous “balcony scene” Juliet threw tantrums and freaked out occasionally as a young teenage girl would that was placed in her situation. This approach seemed to complete the vision for younger audiences’ ability to appreciate and thoroughly understand the play. I would even say that the cast spoke the language of the youth.
Concerning the actual text used, I was filled with joy to see that most of the text was incorporated. Unlike, Ferdy Roberts’s Macbeth, this play did not “slice and dice” Shakespeare’s script. Compared to Roberts’s hour and a half show, this play was the expected length of a Shakespeare play, which is about 3 hours. Some may enjoy a play being cut in half but I am not one of those people. One thing that I realized about Shakespeare and his stories of tragedy is that every scene matters. Every scene reveals a plot, motive or insight of the characters in the play. By taking out scenes, especially a great number, the audience’s experience is at risk of being diminished. Therefore, I applaud the director for “sticking to the script.” Nonetheless, there is a lot to enjoy in this version of Shakespeare’s famous tale, nicely balancing the imagery of the text with some bold and largely successful staging. I would say that this play is something the whole family could easily understand and find great entertainment in.