By William Shakespeare
Directed by Scott Wentworth
At the Festival Theatre. Till October 21, 2017
While neither torrid nor especially poetic or really tragic, Scott Wentworth’s eminently watchable version is hot and swift, with scenes following one another without pause. The story unfolds with a sense of urgency, with the characters’ sense and rashness taking precedence over mellifluous sound and careful calculation. As the star-crossed young lovers, Sara Farb and Antoine Yared are neither larger nor smaller than life, and they seem to act spontaneously and impetuously, like real teenagers in real situations. Not for them the beauty of rhapsodic sonnets or measured metre. They moan with yearning, groan with suffering, wear their hearts on their sleeves. Before expanding its colours, Christina Poddubiuk’s design sets them and others in a world that is dramatic and portentous, with dark robed figures of the Chorus (Sarah Dodd) and the Widows who hold illuminated models of the globe—prefiguring death. Juan Chioran is an imposing, eloquent Escalus, who ordains a law that could lead to tragedy. The brawls and bawdy are casually risky, with sexual puns underlined but not over-extended. A female passerby in the street gets accidentally wounded by a rash rapier in the midst of warring rival gangs. Romeo’s catalogue of oxymorons makes a strong point about the dangers of love, and he is much given to wearing his aching heart on his sleeve and collapsing with nerves aflame. The Nurse (a superbly earthy, pragmatic, empathetic Seana McKenna) enjoys her own casual talk of nipples, pregnancy, and suckling babes. Juliet is in obvious conflict with her parents, especially the hot-tempered Capulet of Randy Hughson, whose paternal violence puts her independence and rebellion in mortal danger. Evan Buliung’s Mercutio (the best I have seen to date) is light-footed and light-hearted (full of jests and mocking wit, especially about love), but when he is fatally wounded by Zlatomir Moldovanski’s smouldering Tybalt, he assumes a bitterly ironic gravity.
It is a production aimed squarely at the younger generations of playgoers, and it works generally well within this framework. Young love, first real love (not the chaste ardour of Romeo for Rosaline) goes through its paces with quick abandon. Romeo startles Juliet in the balcony scene; Juliet yells out impatiently and stridently at her Nurse, and Friar Lawrence (Wayne Best at his Shakespearean best) discovers the extent of teenage ardour and abrupt transitions of feeling. Word music is scanted in favour of passion and harsh truth. Grief grows to hysterical proportion, especially with Marion Adler’s lament as Lady Capulet for the murder of kinsman Tybalt, but some other bigger moments shrink, as in Juliet’s potion speech (because of Farb’s narrow vocal range) and the bungled incidents at the end. And Wentworth adds more wrinkles than he should to the general style by some inexplicable and badly judged directorial touches, such as the Apothecary’s wearing a sharp-beaked bird mask or the appearance of the bloodied ghosts of the slain in a gothic moment that seems to have been wrongly imported from Macbeth. But this production does not obscure the play’s structure built on conflicting oppositions—not simply of poetry and prose or light and darkness, older generation and younger, but of youth and age misleading each other deeper into a failure of self-knowledge.