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 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.

Romeo And Juliet
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 playing.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  online Romeo and Juliet - Stratford Ontario  2020