It’s William Shakespeare’s birthday today, and we are celebrating in self-isolation style in Toronto last night and tonight. The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the South Bank of London has gloriously gifted us all with the free streaming of their 2009 production of Romeo and Juliet. And tonight, I’ll carry on the celebration with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival‘s filmed version of King Lear, which I’m totally excited about. Both bring back memories of past productions and of course the magnificent Canadian television series, “Slings and Arrows“, a show that after I finish writing this piece, I’m going to try to track down online and also dive into that a bit.
It’s about youthful passion and love’s young dream filled to the edge with impatience and desire. I’m also wanting to talk some sense into these love-struck kids, telling them to take a breath and pause for a second, and the outcome might be different, but it never seems to be heard. As directed with a sure-footed sense of humor by Dominic Dromgoole, the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre production fills my heart with love sick glory, wanting to feel that flutter once again, but not to the same point these teenagers do.
I was told when I watched the romantic tragedy last night that some feminists refer to it as ‘the rape play‘ as Juliet, played intensely by Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed in “Game of Thrones“) is almost 14 years old when she gets married off. Now, granted, this was more the norm back in the day of fair Verona, but the beauty of this production is we feel Juliet’s young heart on fire, while we also see her inability to fully understand what the fire brings along with it. Touchingly serious, her Juliet might want to develop a wider range to her emotionality to make us really quake for her pain and desire. She seems more permanently angry all the time, even when dreaming of her wedding bed. But for all her hot-blooded urgency the young love feels right and true.
Romeo, in the hands of the handsome young Adetomiwa Edun (National Theatre’s Translations), is also well defined and filled with a fiery passion for life and love. His speech is perfection, and his intent well designed. He and Kendrick fill the space with a strong intelligent reading of the verse, but fail to really convince me of their undying love for one another. Their meeting at the ball registers as profound and life-altering, but the Capulet vault scene fails to register the sadness and hurt.
Director Dromgoole (Arcola Theatre’s Americans) unearths such clever use of music and frivolity in the interactions in between the drama and flailing around in heartbreak. This is most apparent with Benvolio, beautifully portrayed by Jack Farthing (BBC One’s “Poldark“), and his sidekick in play, Mercutio, smartly portrayed by the wonderful Philip Cumbus (Globe’s Macbeth), who never seem to stop having a good time with their wise and witty interactions, even when in battle with the angry Tybalt, well played by Ukweli Roach (NBC’s “Blindspot“). Cumbus’ Queen Mab speech is one of the true highlights of this production, starting out as a childish lark, but gradually grows into something deeper and far darker than one expected from the playful beginning. This shifting of tone is exactly what is needed throughout, especially in terms of the delivery of Romeo and Juliet’s poetry with one another, but more importantly, when they talk to themselves.
There are scenes throughout that I don’t recall ever seeing, most of them filled with good fun, diving headfirst into the playfully twisty wordplay of Shakespeare. It’s a shame the deadly pain of loss and separation within the leads’ hearts never feels as true or honest as the playful tossing around of mirth and merriment by the others. But it does, in the end, make for a well-paced and fine rendering of the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. But I think I’ll watch, instead, Baz Luhrmann’s cinematic version if I truly want to be emotionally swept away and destroyed by young love and passion.
If you are able, please donate to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (click here) or a theatre company that you love. They could all use our help, as they are in desperate need.
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