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Friday, 28 February 2014

#140 Characters + 6 Actors Find Their Author!

Romeo.Juliet.07Sporting a taut-torsoed Romeo (Natey Jones) and a raw-boned, bawdy script, the TNT Britain-ADG Europe theatre company has this week thrilled Israeli audiences with a size zero model of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers tailored for the Twitter age.

As several Moslems attended the crowded opening matinĂ©e performance  at the Beit Nir Theatre, Beit Hatotchan, Zichron Ya'acov, I wondered if director Paul Stebbings would  tinge his version with local politics. But avoiding controversy, he focuses strictly on the play as an extended sonnet, evoking an Italy of the personal imagination through classical Commedia dell’Arte in which the actors wear masks and costumes from a near-mythical golden period that really never was.

Romeo.Juliet.06While death may well be this Juliet’s (Georgie Ashworth) final lover, we first see her on the cusp of her sexual awakening, eager for adult life while clutching an infant’s rag doll. Small wonder that during the ball scene we view another rag doll being tossed about on a large sheet – symbolic perhaps of all those  young women still thrown on marriage beds at their fathers’ bidding.

But while Stebbings’s anti-romantic view of one of the Bard’s best loved works bristles with mounting erotic tension, the often coarse humour far outweighs the tragedy, making us laugh more than than we weep, as he believes that the “entire play might easily be a comedy”.

So this is not a Romeo and Juliet for traditionalists but for fans willing to return to Shakespeare’s theatrical roots  where actors were – indeed are – multi-skilled, able to swap roles – even gender – and shift minimal, eye-catching sets with graceful ease.

While Ashworth makes a plucky debut as Juliet, greatest honours surely go to Jones and Jude Owusu (Mercutio) while tribute must also be paid to the enthralling music and excitingly choreographed sword fights.

I appreciate that Stebbings is heavily influenced by both the late British academic Professor Sir Frank Kermode and Polish theatre director, Jerzy Grotowski with the latter’s concept of ‘poor theatre’. But as I wrote about last year’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, self-edited, heavily compacted scripts may also impoverish Shakespeare’s intent.  They certainly make the second half of the current production less compelling than the first, so creating an anti-climactic finale. The ‘little death’ becomes so faint – it is barely there.

But don’t take my word for it. Most Israeli theatre-goers have showered this Romeo and Juliet with unstinting, lavish praise.  So if you wish to form your own opinion there may be tickets remaining for the final performance in Raanana tomorrow evening, Saturday 01 March at 8.30 p.m.  (Yad Labanim, Ahuza 147). Details from:  03-696-0389 (aacicentralregion@gmail.com).

© Natalie Wood (28 February 2014)

 

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