Saturday 11 June 2016

Romeo & Juliet still pulls @ heartstrings
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Inauspicious. Wretched. Pathetic. These are the synonyms that pop up instantly when doing a thesaurus-search on "star-crossed", the 41st word uttered amidst the 14 lines spoken by the Chorus to kickstart Romeo & Juliet. The story is anything but. It is a love story writ large and lyrical and lovely. Boomers might be hard-pressed to not gurge up the silly ditty "Why Must We Be Two Teenagers in Love?" by Dion and the Belmonts from 1959 when watching this show.

The story is as old as western society. It's David Mamet's quip about "Old age and treachery will beat youth and exuberance every time." Power-driven rich Capulets, Juliet's house, with a years-long running mad-on for their Verona neighbours, the lower-heeled Montagues, Romeo's bunch.

The fun is the kids' fated love in its bewitching and enchanting moments, not the tumultuous violent crash to earth that turns all the spunky rhapsodic stuff into tragedy.

How it's all put together : The Bard in the 12th line of the Chorus's opening promises "two hours traffic of our stage". In the current production under Director Kim Collier, it's more like 2 1/2 hours. Even for lovers of The Bard's lyrical sonnetry this is starting to push it. We are a people whose iPhones have shortened our attention spans to mere nanoseconds for the most part.

But Shakespeare is Shakespeare. And despite all the cheats of technicolour craftiness plus a theme song that still haunts nearly 50 years on, Franco Zeffirelli's iconic 1968 motion picture with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting also required 2.5 hours before Prince Escalus would conclude "For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."

What the show brings to the stage : Bard's mainstage works well bringing the three dozen characters (played by 16 actors) to life. All the skittery of the Capulet house party; the street scene brawls and sword fights; the antic preparations for Juliet's proposed marriage to Paris -- the big BMO house is perfect for this.

Entrances from up-aisle and side-aisle and backstage all add to the sense of crowd involvement in this classic love story. Not to mention some playful interactions between actors and audience such as Juliet's bouquet-toss after her nuptials with Romeo.

Production values of the show : Taking our seats, I confess to instant disappointment in the set by Scenery Designer Pam Johnson. Two giant rectangular scenery wagons in gunmetal grey -- some 15-feet long, six deep -- transect the stage. With closet doors below and castle wall-type openings on top, they failed to excite, engage or enliven visual interest. 

But such blighted hope from previous Bard scenic superiority was rescued by other production elements : Gerald King's lighting against these bland walls was triangulated imaginatively. Sound design by Brian Linds tuned the ears with delightful cello / piano riffs at key moments. Fight Director David McCormick had a vigorous workout indeed putting this show together with all WS's puffed and swollen male egos strutting their clangers together repeatedly, both lit-&-fig. Nancy Bryant's costumes were particularly good on the Capulet side of the aisle if a bit too-peasantry on the Montague flank. Given all the sharp-edged mayhem throughout the script, meanwhile, a curious lack of live theatre blood-spurts splashing all over the stage as we've come to expect over the years as de rigeur.

Acting pin-spots : Three actors particularly stood out for this viewer. As Nurse, Jennifer Lines once again demonstrates how compleat and commanding and imposing she is in her embracement of Shakespeare roles. Animated, effervescent acting of the first magnitude. A more compelling relationship between Juliet and this confidante who has been Juliet's surrogate mother since birth could not be imagined.

Friar Laurence as depicted by veteran Scott Bellis -- curiously wearing glasses throughout plus directed to do an odd flower-pot bit while wearing some Bose headphones early on -- grabbed the part's painful complicity well indeed.

Andrew McNee as Mercutio was worth the price of admission alone. Accusing Benvolio (Ben Elliott) of having no temper on his impulses, he betrayed instead his own reactionary explosiveness that would soon bring him to tell Romeo (Andrew Chown) three times "A plague on both your houses!" when he was cut to the core by Tybalt (Anton Lipovetsky).

For his part, Mr. Chown's Romeo was engaging and charming most of the night, though quite shouty in his overwrought state when told, over & over, how he had been "banish-ed" to Mantua by the Prince. As Juliet, Hailey Gillis was perhaps a bit too mature for the part overall. But still she was utterly a charm showing girlish impatience while she awaited the return of Nurse from visiting Romeo. And the two lovers during their wedding and on their brief honeymoon night completely embraced their roles -- and the audience -- in precisely the manner Shakespeare would have wanted of them. 

Who gonna like : While not as dynamic and captivating overall as many of the previous dozen Bard productions I've seen in recent seasons, for the reasons noted above, this Romeo and Juliet will nevertheless appeal to Shakespeare aficionados whose summer is incomplete without the lilt and harmony and mellifluous ring of The Bard's poetry, particularly that of the "greatest love story of all time". 

Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, B.C. At the Mainstage tent, Vanier Park. Performances : forty-four shows between now and its September 23rd closing night [see for schedules & ticket information]. Run-time 170 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Kim Collier. Costume Designer Nancy Bryant.  Scenery Designer Pam Johnson.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Choreographer Valerie Easton.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director  David McCormick. Sound Designer Brian Linds.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Kelly Barker. Apprentice Stage Manager Elizabeth Wellwood.  Directing Apprentice Matthew Thomas Walker.  Set Design Apprentice Bronwyn Carradine.

Performers :  Scott Bellis (Friar Laurence, Capulet servant).  Andrew Chown (Romeo).  Andrew Cownden (Page).  Daniel Doheney (Balthasar).  Victor Dolhai (Escalus; musician).  Ben Elliott (Benvolio; musician).  Haily Gilles (Juliet).  Amber Lewis (Lady Montague; Capulet servant).  Jennifer Lines (Nurse).  Anton Lipovetsky (Tybalt; apothecary; musician).  David Marr (Montague).  Andrew McNee (Mercutio; Montague servant).  Shaker Paleja (Paris; Montague servant).  Dawn Petten (Lady Capulet).  Tom Pickett (Friar John; Capulet old cousin; musician).  Ashley Wright (Capulet).



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