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The final offering in the week of openings at the Stratford Festival was the grandest of love stories, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The production is directed by Sam White, a young woman who shows promise of good things to come. This effort is not a bad production but there are several issues that provoke criticism and my review may seem to deal more with them and for good sound reasons.
We start with a couple of loud and annoying drums that we will hear on and off. I could not figure out why they are in production. The Chorus sets the scene and theme in the opening lines of the play and it is usually recited by an actor. White seems to have taken the word chorus literally and she has it sung. Nothing was gained by it except with some difficulty in following some of the words.
The staging by director White is sound, the costumes suitable and we have every right to expect a fine production. Graham Abbey as Juliet’s father is remarkably effective. He shows his love for Juliet and is looking out for her best interest. But he is a 16th century father who becomes furious and ugly when disobeyed by his child. An exceptional performance by Abbey.
Glynnis Ranney plays the nurse largely for comic relief. She is shrill, loud and at times difficult to understand but we know what she is about and accept White’s take on the role. The problem with many of the other characters is that they frequently spoke too quickly. Was there a reason for not making them slow down so we can hear and understand what they are saying all the time? Curious and incomprehensible.
When Romeo and Juliet meet, they speak to each other in a beautiful sonnet. Romeo starts with “If I profane with my unworthiest hand/This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:/My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand/To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss” Surely, they are looking in each other’s eyes and falling in love as they speak those beautiful lines. White has them standing at an angle to each other looking away. They then move away from each other and return for the sonnet to take effect and to kiss. One of the most beautiful scenes in the play is reduced in intensity and I have no idea why White chose to stage it thus.
In the final, tragic scene Romeo sees the lovely Juliet in the tomb and asks: “Ah, dear Juliet,/Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe/That unsubstantial death is amorous,/And that the lean abhorred monster keeps/Thee here in dark to be his paramour?” Juliet is so beautiful that Death personified keeps her for his mistress. The lines should be delivered with a depth of feeling and resonance that not a single dry eye should remain in the theatre. They were not because Jonathan Mason did not instill them with the emotional intensity that they demand.
Vanessa Sears as Juliet showed passion and vitality during the balcony scene and in her argument with father. She did not rush through her lines as much as some of the other actors. The gruff-voiced Scott Wentworth made a good Friar Laurence so there were good parts in the production but you cannot miss the big ones and expect the less important scenes to carry you.
The street scenes and fight were done well but the overall effect was not as positive we we expected.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare opened on June 1 and will continue in repertory until October 26, 2024, at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario.

Members of the company in Romeo and Juliet, 2024. Photography by David Hou.

June 27, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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