The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Festivaltheater.ca and YouTube Summer 2020
The most impressive thing
about this 2017 production from Stratford Ontario's Festival Theatre is
the casting and performance of Sara Farb as Juliet.
Juliets are too often cast by
type, the youngest, blondest and most born-to-be-a-victim-looking actress
in a company automatically getting the role. It is to the credit of
director Scott Wentworth that he not only cast Farb against type but
recognised that the air of intelligence and strength she brings to Juliet
would enrich the play.
Farb's Juliet is not a
shrinking wallflower or an ethereal beauty. In Shakespearean terms she is
more Beatrice than Ophelia, an intelligent woman who knows she's
intelligent but is not too beyond the thirteen-year-old girl she lets us
glimpse from time to time, especially in her scenes with Seana McKenna's
warm and motherly Nurse.
Next to this Juliet, Antoine
Yared's Romeo is very much a not-fully-formed adolescent. He's an
attractive kid, but still clearly a kid and, tragic ending apart, there is
no doubt who's getting the better deal in this romance.
Here's something normally of
interest only to English teachers: when Romeo and Juliet meet, the first
fourteen lines of their dialogue make up a perfect sonnet. It's a sort of
private joke Shakespeare had with himself, showing how instantly in sync
the lovers are.
I've never seen any
production do anything with that bit of trivia until now. Yared's Romeo is
showing off as he starts the scene, counting off the metre on his fingers
to make sure she sees how clever and poetic he's being.
And then Farb tops him by
matching him beat by beat and rhyme by rhyme, letting him and us see that
she's not only in tune with him but maybe even better at the game they're
Of course this is all in
keeping with the play. Another thing English teachers like to point out is
that it is Juliet who first mentions marriage and that she generally
handles crises better than Romeo.
Director and actors run with
that as well, with Romeo's despair at being banished turned into a
complete adolescent tantrum, while she handles the prospect of awakening
in a tomb with determined aplomb. The potion speech is, in fact, Sara
Farb's weakest moment in the play because we really can't believe this
Juliet is as panicky as her lines indicate.
Beyond the central couple
there isn't much of interest to those who know the play. What may be an
accident of casting makes Romeo's friends – Jamie Mac's amiable Benvolio
and Evan Buliung's hothead Mercutio – seem older than he, while Zlatomir
Moldovanski's Tybalt appears a generation older than any of them.
Designer Christina Poddubiuk
keeps the stage dark even in the daylight scenes, while dressing everyone
in black or dark colours gives the whole thing a Puritan feel that does
not seem in keeping with the play.
The video recording, directed by Barry Avrich, is excellent.
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