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Classic love story filled with quality, charm, wit

July 18, 2013
The greatest love story of the theater, perhaps in all literature, is receiving a brilliant and, in a way, revolutionary presentation at the Stratford, Ontario, Festival this summer. Moreover, this “Romeo and Juliet” is outstanding.

Director Tim Carroll from London’s new Globe Theatre takes full advantage of the Canadian company’s superb resources in actors and the original stage concept used by Shakespeare’s company 400 year ago adopted by the festival in 1955 and then in London in 1997.

The revolutionary part comes from use of the Elizabethan stage design to allow performances to recapture as much as possible how the plays were originally performed.

The actors can talk to the audience and they do so with charm, wit and grace while the program is enriched with period music and dance. Lighting imitates the fullness of daylight originally admitted through an open roof. The familiar fanfare preceding performances replaces the brass with lute and tambourine. A 16th century madrigal by singing actors opens the second half. It all engenders a closer contact with the audience.

Since no scenery and few props are used, Shakespeare’s text fills in with description of the physical layout for audience imagination to set the scene. It makes sense since the text is both rich and beautiful without technical effects needing only quality elocution. Meanwhile the stage is highly versatile accommodating a smooth flow of the action.

In this production the effect is overwhelming. The festival’s emphasis on clean and well expressed speech is clearly evident and greatly enhances the dramatic impact. It is further enhanced by the poetic beauty of the speeches and the excellence of the delivery.

A glowing example is the famous character of Juliet’s nurse. Kate Hennig is a complete and triumphant achievement in the role. Her nurse stands foursquare in her outspoken character and lives and breathes, expounding herself loudly on every occasion, often hilariously mistaken or misleading and always blissfully unregenerate.

Jonathan Goad as the uninhibited Mercutio is another piece of blazing fireworks as he honors Queen Mab and crosses swords with the eager and not so sympathetic duelist and highly effective foil in the Montague-Capulet feud with Tyrone Savage as Tybalt. Definitely a high point of excitement, the sword play is superbly coached. Tybalt kills Mercutio. Then Romeo, overwhelmed by his friend’s death, takes out Tybalt. It’s action that has viewers holding their breath.

But in this play’s incredible range of emotion, we also hold our breath over the exquisitely beautiful and tender exchanges of words and kisses. The most idealistically passionate and most sensitively delivered by the young lovers is their joint sonnet as they exchange vows at the Capulet ball and in the balcony scene. It is a heavenly moment among the wild moods that enliven the drama and suspense of the approaching tragedy. Sara Topham and Daniel Briere are the quintessential, idealistic teenage lovers.

Masterful performances by star quality actors like Tom McCamus and Scott Wentworth add to the tragic impact in their cameo roles as the misguided Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s domineering father.

For any devotee of Shakespeare and this play, it is a performance not to miss.

“Romeo and Juliet” is presented in repertory at the Festival Theatre through Oct. 19. Call 800-567-1600 or visit stratfordfestoval.ca.

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