By William Shakespeare
Directed by Barry Rutter
Company: Northern Broadsides
Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston
Date: Wednesday 23rd April 2008
It’s good to see Northern Broadsides down here in the south. I very much like their no-nonsense approach and deep faith in the text. Plus, of course, their willingness to give the audience a good time – that’s always welcome.
On the way up, Steve and I were speculating on which part Barry Rutter would have snaffled for himself. We were sure it would be either the Friar or Pops Capulet. Who knew he would opt for Romeo? (Only joking.) Capulet was his role this time, although he also gave us the prologue.
I must admit to nodding off a bit during the first half, between the ball and Mercutio’s fight with Tybalt. I found the production took a while to get going. I don’t know if it was the performance space or, as Steve suspected, the high proportion of school kids in the audience, but I didn’t feel as involved as I would normally expect in a Northern Broadsides production. Fortunately the second half worked better for me – I felt the audience had warmed up more, although Barry Rutter had to cool down some of the youngsters by stopping his opening line and redoing it once they settled down.
The overall style was typical Northern Broadsides. The set consisted of a paved square-ish area with a two-level raised platform on top of it. The first raised level acted as a step, but didn’t run all the way around the top level. This platform was set slightly to the right of centre, allowing space for a large set of stairs leading up to a balcony to the left of the stage. There was plenty of room around all this, and sometimes the actors had to walk quite a long way to get to the “stage”.
Music played an important part in this production, as usual. There were several instruments sitting beside the balcony, including a double bass, and we were treated to some lively stuff for the feast (clog dancing included), a lovely wedding song which counterpointed the dead body of Juliet, a short requiem for the funeral, and probably some other bits which I just don’t remember. We also got the altercation between the servants and the musicians after the discovery of Juliet’s body, which is a very rare scene to see.
The costumes were a mixture; 50s style, I’d guess, with some contemporary clothes thrown in. The only furniture I can remember was the bed, which came on during the interval, and was used later on as kind of shroud to remove Juliet’s body. Sadly this deft piece of stage work caused some titters from the less mature audience members. For the funeral, a pallet was brought on to sit in the hole left by the bed, and Juliet and Tybalt walked on, now dressed in black, to take their places in Capel’s monument. I felt that was very effective, and that continued when, after the requiem, the others went, leaving Paris and his servant in the perfect position to start the next scene.
As the bed was “on” from the start of the second half, we got to see Romeo and Juliet lying together in it, another cause for immaturity in the audience to show itself, but a touching moment for the rest of us. I thought it was well done, and helped to show the characters growing up. I also thought what a big step one’s first sexual experience can be, but how much there still is to learn after that.
I always like the clarity of these productions, and today was no exception. Friar Lawrence can seem a real busybody, interfering in two young lives and screwing them up right royally. Today I could see that he’s doing his best to help, and there’s even a chance it could work. When Romeo is banished, and it all seems to be going horribly wrong, the friar’s plan to get Juliet away from her family and the arranged marriage makes sense. She’d be dead, for all her family knew, so no one would be looking for her. The impact of the undelivered letter is all the greater because, but for that, the plan would have worked. Shame about the audience, but even so, the youngsters did seem to appreciate the performance at the end.
Chaired by Stephen Unwin, this was a talk about language in the theatre, and Barry gave us his views in his usual forthright manner. He doesn’t go in for all the psychological stuff with Shakespeare – even Stanislavsky reckoned his method was only good for contemporary Russian writers, and recommended ignoring it for the likes of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, etc. For Barry, the text is the important thing, and Will had written his lines with a particular rhythm, to give the actors the key to their delivery. This is what he, and the company, try to bring out in their productions.
He talked a bit about how and why he set up Northern Broadsides. Basically, he wanted work, and decided the best way to do that was to employ himself. He thought the company would only last a short while, and now they’ve been going for years, and tour to even more places. The only place they can’t go to is London, some silliness to do with the Arts Council grant, I think. He’s a good talker is Barry, and there was lots more entertaining stuff, but that’s the main points, and enough for now.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me