Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet

Sam White’s Romeo and Juliet was one of the most eagerly anticipated productions this year at the Stratford Festival. This version of the story, which is synonymous over time with teenage lust, delivers all of its angst. There are sword fights in the play? Yep. You’re kidding? For sure. Lots of crying. You betcha.

William Shakespeare‘s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, is given an effective, traditional treatment. The men wear tights; the women, empire-waist dresses with gold headpieces. White’s Romeo and Juliet mirrors the Elizabethan age, including the shockingly liberal attitudes towards child marriage and pregnancy.

Sam White’s Romeo and Juliet was one of the most eagerly anticipated debuts this year at the Stratford Festival. This production, which is drenched in angst and a history of teenage infatuation, delivers exactly what you expect. There are sword fights in the play? Yep. You’re kidding? For sure. Lots of crying. You betcha.

Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, is given an effective, traditional treatment. The men wear tights; the women, empire-waist dresses with golden headpieces. White’s Romeo and Juliet was set during the Elizabethan age, and unlike Seana McKenna, who updated her Twelfth Night to 1967.

A few nice scenes are shared with Romeo’s friends from the Montague camp before they, umm… they vacate the scene. Hao Bang Yü Steven Hao Andrew Iles play Benvolio &mercutio respectively, with a combination of bravery and bite. Iles makes a second appearance onstage in the play’s second half as an entirely different character. It is one of White’s best choices. Scott Wentworth, as Friar Laurence steals many scenes thanks to his mastery of Shakespearean text and pace.

In the end, this production has some great performances. White has made some interesting choices, but others seem undeveloped. Stars on the walls and ceilings of the Festival Theatre are so tiny that they are nearly imperceptible. Louise Guinand’s lighting, while functional, is not the best choice for a production about famously star-crossed romantics. Sue LePage is a master of luxury, with her costumes and accessories (including the gorgeous gold masks she wears during Romeo’s and Juliet’s meeting), as well as her minimal set that ably suggests everything from Juliet’s bed to her final tomb.

In the end, I was missing the visual cues to the Capulets-Montague feud — the symbols that go beyond the peach-red Capulet and green-blue Montague gowns. Shakespeare’s conflict has been a generation-long, bitter one that by its final act, claimed many lives, both young and old.

White uses two drummers to add a dramatic touch whenever an event is going to be violent. Jones-Ball (as well as Hargrove) are talented drummers with superb dramatic flair. Their drumbeats bring a creepy, unsettling pulse to a story whose aural environment is otherwise sparse.

The first Romeo and Juliet you’ve seen is great. Although it isn’t a stellar production, for Shakespeare newbies, it provides a wonderful introduction to Shakespeare’s language. If you’re a seasoned theatergoer, this is the production for you. It will excite and thrill the more seasoned audience, especially the Capulets.

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