Review: Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe

I’ve wanted to watch a Shakespeare play being performed at the Globe Theatre from the time I first entered the building many years ago.  There was also a chance I could see some of my favourite actors (David Tennant and Catherine Tate were performing in The Tempest at this point in time) but the tickets were bought almost instantly. A few months ago I was browsing their website and saw that tickets for Romeo and Juliet were available. Seeing as it was one of the Shakespeare plays I knew I instantly brought a ticket.

Shakespeare’s Globe is the third Globe Theatre. The original theatre was destroyed by a fire in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII when a cannon misfired. The theatre was made of timber beams and the roof was made of thatch resulting in the building being burnt to the ground. According to the surviving documents no one died in the blaze and the theatre was rebuilt in the following year. The second theatre was closed down by the Puritans in 1642, along with the rest of the theatres in London. The modern theatre, known as Shakespeare’s Globe was built in 1997 and incooperates the layout of the two original buildings. The modern globe also has the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (named after the man who funded the Globe’s rebuilding) and a Shakespeare education centre in adjoining buildings.

I was lucky enough to get a seat on the upper gallery directly opposite centre stage. You could argue it was the best seat in the house (the VIP boxes only having a side view of the stage) the only negative being the studio light positioned above us plus the already humid heat of the night air.

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I thought I knew the first scene of Romeo and Juliet rather well having studied it countless times at school. It consisted of two servants of one house insulting two servants of another house by biting their thumbs at each other (the equivalent of raising the middle finger). Instead Lady Capulet and Lady Montague were wheeled on stage and gave birth to two children’s coffins as a voice over gave the opening lines:

Two households, both alike in dignity,

in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. 

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. 

Then the servants started fighting but instead of swords and daggers they were hitting each other with boxing gloves and  baseball bats while wearing clown make-up as dub step echoed around the theatre. Needless to say, this wasn’t the traditional Romeo and Juliet I expected.

I don’t need to go over the plot of the play as many of you will be aware of it. My favourite part was when Lord Capulet descended on the stage on a disco ball dressed in a dinosaur outfit and sang YMCA with the rest of the cast during the Capulet masked ball. Despite the comedy, the play was very well acted partially by the two leads. Romeo strutted on stage listing to heavy rock on his iPod and Juliet’s emotional monologue during the final scenes in the crypt were genuinely moving. My main criticism of Shakespeare is that the texts are dry and confusing. This performance was certainly not, I think it was one of my English teachers who said you need to watch Shakespeare to understand and enjoy Shakespeare.

I was surprised to find not everyone enjoyed the new interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. Currently the Shakespeare’s Globe is conducting a Summer of Love series, performing many of Shakespeare’s plays that fall into the Romantic genre. The new Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice has upset many Shakespeare purists by attaching microphones to actors outfits and using a lighting rig and a sound system. The straight laced Shakespeare buffs condemned the performance and claimed she had ruined the play (Ha!). The online reviews have failed to give the performance anything over three stars and claim the comedy and modern twists and drained the play of any emotional punch it may have packed. Rice has been fired from the Globe but was happy to point out that during her run at the theatre the audience was at 93% capacity the highest attendance rate in recent years.

While I can understand the point that the play lack depth at certain parts, for example Mercutio’s death,  I think the critics are missing the goal that Rice and the director of Romeo and Juliet, Daniel Kramer, were trying to acheive. In a modern setting I found the play easier to follow and it was engaging to a younger audience. What critics and reviewers are keen to point out is that Romeo and Juliet is the love story and arguably one of Shakespeare’s most famous works. While I agree that the play is one of most influential the Elizabethan audience did not treat the play as seriously as modern audiences.  Romeo and Juliet are only teenagers, the play takes place over several days and Juliet would have been portrayed by a man in drag. (You can read my full review of the classic Romeo and Juliet here)

In the dispute between critics and fans I’m siding with the latter. Thank you, Emma Rice and Daniel Kramer for the lovely evening.

 

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