Our teenage reviewer is going to be studying Romeo and Juliet this coming year at school, so it seemed a good opportunity to select one of the six possible Fringe productions of Shakespeare’s play in to our review schedule. The idea was that we would go to see two different productions, then compare and contrast them to provide a balanced review. However, due to scheduling conflicts we were only able to attend this version of the play, by Portuguese director Joao Garcia Miguel.
What started out as an attempt by an adult to give the opportunity for a teenager to see a text come to life may have put her off Shakespeare for life! Certainly not the intention, and something which gives rise to a dilemma in reviewing this production.
From an adult’s perspective, this production was inventive, witty, sexually charged and an intense experience. For a youngster who is the same age as the heroine of the piece, it was uncomfortable and disturbing, and a performance where embarrassed giggling had to be suppressed at certain points.
The stage is a simple dais in a black clad room, with a musician set to one side where he plays a set of mainly digital instruments to great effect throughout the production. Indeed, the music, performed live by Rui Gato, was one of the real surprises and triumphs of this staging, adding tension and atmosphere throughout the show.
The performers, clad in costumes which evoke the period rather than being a historical reproduction, are standing on stage as we enter, with David Pereira Bastos (as Romeo) seated at a drum, and Sara Ribeiro (as Juliet) ready to start the action with a musical introduction which weaves the blues song “Fever” into the story. Of course, now that I check the lyrics there is a reference in there to Romeo and Juliet in the Peggy Lee version. Throughout the production, other music was woven into the story, from sources ranging from Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights” from the ballet version of the tale (also known as the Montagues and Capulets – very familiar due it having been used as the theme tune for “The Apprentice” ) to Jim Morrison/Doors and Jimi Hendrix.
There is a huge amount of physical theatre used to invoke the notion of the feeling of the intensity of young love at first sight – and it was at this point that our young reviewers felt most uncomfortable as the convulsions and rapture which Juliet goes into on sight of Romeo were reminiscent of a fit or drug-induced convulsion, and seemed more a flight of the director’s imagination than a display from a young girl who at this point in the action is reputed to be virginal.
It was difficult to work out if much of the dialogue used original text, although the broad outline of the story of the tragic lovers was portrayed by the two actors, taking time to explain parts of the action as an aside in order to progress through the tale. The lasting impression is of a re-telling of the story rather than the use of the beautiful language of the original. It was strange and a little deflating however after the death scene to have the actors come out of character to talk about stories of love from their own experience, and then to invite the audience to present a tale of their own – to which the rejoinder of one audience member was “you’ve got to be joking!”
Overall, the performance and interpretation was a memorable one, and deserved to have a larger audience than the dozen or so people who were in attendance on the evening
When selecting reviews for a young teenager, we relied upon the guidelines in the Fringe brochure as to age suitability, and this production was marked as a 12+, however on emerging from the theatre, our teen reviewer (and a friend who accompanied us) said that this one should have been rated 16+ as they both felt uncomfortable during certain parts of the performance.