In the Playhouse / At the Cinema: “Romeo and Juliet”

I felt particularly spoiled this weekend as a play-goer. On saturday, all I had to do was walk a few block down to my local independent theatre to be completely and intimately immersed in the Globe experience. Opus Arte, an international arts production company, has in recent years began filming and distributing unique arts and theatre events to be screened widely when the production would not have otherwise been seen by those who could not physically be there. This weekend I was transported to a summer in London to see a beautiful production of Romeo and Juliet.

The production can only be described in terms of beautiful and accurate opulence. The Globe Theatre Company today specializes in original practices and reconstructing performances. They incorporate period music and instruments, continuous action, sparse props, and period costumes (not so lush as they could have been cast-offs from a wealthy household). The camera work was especially impressive in that I never once caught sight of a cameraman despite their ability to shoot the stage action from a variety of angles and depths of field. In fact, the only thing that may not have been accurate was the three-hour running time; no lines seem to have been cut from the playtext, which seems a fair enough trade off I suppose. Drums enhanced the excitement of the sword fights (choreography by Sian Williams), and the production even ended with a traditional jig–something entirely accurate but rarely done as many contemporary directors feel it doesn’t jive with tragedy.

The production was incredibly conscientious, sensitive to not only the visual but auditory nature of early modern drama. The ensemble was unwaveringly balanced, each player bringing a well-considered meaning and depth to their verse performances. The leads were surprisingly youthful: according to the theatre manager, Juliet (Ellie Kendrick) is only in her late teens and Romeo (Adetomiwa Edun) in his very early twenties. Kendrick played a fully-embodied Juliet, with the impetuous of youth but a girl thoughtful of her own future. Edun’s Romeo, while physically hyperbolic at times, was able to find a balance between morality and lovesickness.

In fact, the only scene that didn’t ring true was the lark-and-nightingale debate after Romeo and Juliet have spent their first night together. It is a scene that rarely falls flat in the many renditions I have seen, but there was no sense of intimacy between the lovers. And yet, the balcony scene was supurb, ironically suggesting the Kendrick and Edun do their best work apart. Mercutio has always been a favorite character of mine, and Philip Cumbus lent him a touch of madness not unnatural but that which springs from feeling too much of the world. Director Dominic Dromgoole did not shirk from the sexualized content nor gloss over phallic puns which are rife in the play. This is an adult production that does not pastoralize nor devalue love. The Globe is a massive performance space, and Dromgoole puts his actors to work to use all of it. The sense of largeness and mobility, coupled with the camera pans of the audience, captured the particular rowdy ambiance of the Renaissance stage experience. At moments that aura and vastness of the space, in a place and a time so far away, seemed overwhelming and yet maintaining an accessible sense authenticity.

  • Films like these are event cinema, meaning that they often have a very limited run constrained to one weekend or even a single evening. However, the Opus Arte website suggests that the film may eventually go on sale, so check for details.
  • For more information or directions to Champaign-Urbana’s Art Theatre, check out their website, here.