[This is not Romeo]
Romeo & Juliet is a tragedy. An early twenties (arguably late teens) knave and a 13 year old girl become infatuated with each other, and in less than a working week six people including themselves are dead. While that may come across as an amusingly black read at first, it belies the tragedy by which these events take place. Tragedy, however, does not appear to be the concern of director Ben Naylor.
The last time I saw Romeo & Juliet I cried three times. This time, the Pop-up Globe audience had a good ol’ laugh at the insipid entry of the musicians post Juliet’s death (which, for some reason, was confined to an upstage nook). It is this constant hammering of not only the comedy inherent in the script, but also the stretching of it to the more dramatic and less appropriate moments, that results in a production of insultingly facetious sentiment. If you want to make an audience cry, you first have to make them laugh, but if all you’re going to sell us is comedy, we’re not going to buy the drama. More importantly, we need to hear it. Even on a clear night the vocals are not enough, as actors drop the ends of sentences, or forget to drive through a line as they turn their heads, or stomp across the stage through their own and others’ dialogue.
The younger and less experienced of the cast are clearly out of their depth, with chaotic and capricious performances that lack any grounding or consistency. They miss verb inflections and instead elongate them to ridiculous lengths, as if overstating something will somehow make it clearer, or funnier, or more entertaining. Contrastingly, some of the play’s most well-known speeches are placed with an intent that I can only describe as “lacking”. “My only love sprung from my only hate!” sounds like Christel Chapman’s Juliet is discussing condiments, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” sounds like a petulant child whose iPhone hasn’t properly downloaded her latest playlist. Pair this with Jonathan Tynan-Moss’ Romeo, a squeaky-voiced dishcloth who plays the role with the horniness of a dolphin instead of the purity of a star-crossed lover, and the idea of romance is all but dead before the lovers are. These words are too big for such small mouths.
As Mercutio, Stanley Andrew Jackson III is a cross between Cat from Red Dwarf and Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod in The Fifth Element. It’s an out there portrayal of a character that already requires an incredibly fine balance between flamboyancy and sageness. Fortunately, Jatinder Singh’s Tybalt and Stephen Butterworth’s Capulet, through both function and intent of character, savage the stage with a ferocity that is both wild and incredibly focussed. The political subplot of warring houses is strong in this production (as it should be), but only when it is being given obvious attention. Paul Willis’ Peter is also an endearing delight, his musical musing in act IV scene V bringing a sorrow in contrast to his previous comedic scenes without losing the lightness of one of the play’s lesser produced roles.
While I applaud the intentions behind the Pop-up Globe, I have yet to find the clarity in its artistic interpretation. At times it feels there is a desire to bring to Auckland audiences the traditional experience (including the post show jig following the curtain call to the most tragic love story ever told); there’s a Jacobean heart beating beneath it all, but the attempts at modernisation in costumes and props, and the lack of apparent intention of the works themselves comes across as gaudy and ill-conceived. The experience of the Pop-up Globe is worth the price of a ticket, however, Romeo & Juliet is potentially not the show to see. For the full Shakespearean effect, groundling tickets to one of the less than two-hour plays would be much more suited.
by Matt Baker
EDITOR: Theatre Scenes also received a review submission from Miryam Jacobi, who attended Romeo & Juliet on opening night, and was moved to respond to the experience. Miryam Jacobi is an actor, writer and publicist now based in Auckland after graduating from her training at Toi Whakaari; NZ Drama School in 2015. Miryam also writes about what her friends jokingly describe as ‘feminist-hoo-ha’ but is really about the highs and lows of being a young artist on her blog here.
Many say Romeo and Juliet is the greatest love story ever written. I first encountered Shakespeare’s masterpiece as a 14 year-old speaking Juliet’s verse in a Cathedral – there began my obsession with the “story of so much woe.”
And what a life-time this play has had; from Shakespeare’s day, when young boys whose voices had not yet broken would’ve pranced around on stage playing the innocent Juliet, to Baz Luhrmann’s kick-ass film adaptation – R&J continues to surprise me with it’s timelessness.
It is the play we commonly considered as the crème-de-la-crème of love stories, when in fact it should be considered one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies. Ben Naylor’s production at the Pop-up Globe, however, seems to think that R&J is a farcical comedy.
At the interval of opening night, the audience was fizzing. My group of friends loved the energy, the freshness of the comedy the cast were finding, and the delightful experience of being a groundling. The atmosphere was pumping.
Unfortunately, by setting up such a promise for lightness, comedy and fun, the company shot themselves in the foot. Into the second half, I looked around at the audience’s faces. Previously captivated, wide-eyed and giggly, they were now glum. One woman had the right idea – she put her feet up and was having a snooze on her husband’s shoulder. You could see it on their faces: “This isn’t the show we thought it was going to be.”
It is true, that after Mercutio’s death, Shakespeare’s text does tend away from comedy and gets into the nitty-gritty. For some reason, the Pop-up Globe production valiantly continues their quest for comedy, even through what should be the most devastating and heart-breaking moments.
By the time it got to Romeo finding Juliet’s dead body, it was game over. He actually walked over his lover, stomping around the stage and flopping her head around – at one point I feared he was going to rip off one of her limbs. Romeo (played by Jonathan Tynan-Moss) did have wonderful comical timing, physical dexterity and playfulness, which rocketed us through the first half. An actor perhaps more appropriate for a role like Mercutio. Juliet should have a Romeo who is loving, courageous and unyielding – a Romeo whose “bounty is as boundless as the sea,” his “love as deep.” Tynan-Moss left much room for the imagination; his Romeo was camp, floppy and petulant.
Remember – this is Romeo and Juliet. When we see Romeo find his dead lover’s body, our hearts should be breaking. When he takes up the dagger to end his life, unable to go on without his Juliet, we should want to shout, “No! Just wait a moment! Don’t do it! She’s going to wake up!” Alas, I was more pre-occupied with the clink of empty bottles being emptied outside the theatre than Romeo’s plight.
Carmel McGlone showed her delightful spirit, craft and dexterity as an actor – she was right at home on that Globe-replica stage. She masterfully wielded the tricky comedy of the Nurse, and had some glorious moments – a woman who I would love to see alongside stars such as Mark Rylance and our own Rawiri Paratene.
Christel Chapman was a refreshingly ‘messy’ yet radiant Juliet. Once she relaxed into the role, she really took ownership and found a fabulously comedic fierceness to Juliet. Sadly, every time she built up her authenticity, sensitivity and connection it was stomped on by other company members.
It’s no easy task, putting on a production in this space. The actor’s are laid bare. The intimacy with audience members, staring at them point blank, can be terrifying. The movement and vocal energy required to reach the 360-degree theatre is enormous. It’s important to note here we have an international director working with a largely kiwi cast, most of whom are very new to working in such a space – with a mere three days to work in the actual Pop-up Globe before opening.
I also wonder if they buckled under the pressure to be a crowd-pleaser. In fear of the ‘drama’ falling flat, it can always be tempting to fill with comedy – just make the audience laugh. However, I whole-heartedly commend the Pop-up Globe’s spirit, their energy, and for bringing a vast array of Shakespeare in such a wonderful way for audience’s to experience.
The problem with this production is not because we do not have the talent here in New Zealand. It’s not that we are less talented, inferior to British actors or incapable of putting on productions that can move audiences to tears (if you want something of this kind, go see Silo’s production of The Book of Everything.) New Zealand has a large pool of very talented, very capable, and trained actors, designers, directors and technicians out there. Standing and watching this production, it felt as if the team behind the Pop-up Globe had not taken the time to build a company from the real potential there is in our industry. I regret to say it is nowhere near in the same league as their counterpart in London. It saddens me that audiences will go away thinking that this is Shakespeare as he intended it.
If you do go, I recommend the $15 groundling tickets. Get up close and personal, and get to really feel the thrill of the well-executed and staged combat (I only wish some of the men had acted with the same energy as with which they fought).
Romeo and Juliet – perhaps the greatest tragedy ever written. From the first moment the star-cross’d lovers lay eyes on each other – it should be electric. We should feel the whole world stop as we witness this life-changing meeting. But when there’s a Romeo and Juliet that lack any semblance of all-consuming love, and you wish they’d stop being soppy and start being funny again, you know you’re in trouble.
by Miryam Jacobi
Romeo & Juliet is presented by and plays at the Pop-up Globe until April 17. For details see Pop-up Globe.