When you think of love, who doesn’t think of Romeo and Juliet? Watching one of Shakespeare’s most iconic plays, it’s humbling to realize what an effect the play has had on our modern world – our perception of love, or even the number of phrases that have made their way into everyday use. The Citadel’s take on Romeo and Juliet was a tribute to the beauty of young love told by the talented participants in the Citadel/Banff Centre Theatre Program.
Being a show about young people in love, it was really refreshing to see the number of young faces on the Citadel’s stage, and in particular the number of Edmonton-based theatre professionals that were selected to be part of the Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program. It was great to see familiar faces in Edmonton’s theatre scene such as Jamie Cavanagh, Chris W. Cook, and Patrick Lundeen in a much larger-scale production than I typically see them in. The lead roles are played by the duos Morgan David Jones/Rose Napoli or Brendan McMurtry-Howlet/Shaina Silver-Baird on alternate nights. The night I went, the lead roles were performed by Brendan and Shaina – two actors I’ve never seen on stage before, but after seeing the production really have a lot of respect for their approach to their characters. If it’s been a few years since you’ve read (or seen) Romeo and Juliet, maybe you’ve forgotten that Juliet is 13 in the play and Romeo is estimated to be in his late teens or early 20’s. It would be easy to play Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other as immature and childish, but Brendan and Shaina successfully avoided the temptation to over-act their roles. The pair certainly used the mannerisms of infatuated teenagers, but spoke the prose so earnestly with the voice of maturity that the sentiment transcended age.
While I was a little underwhelmed at most of the technical elements of the show, I was definitely impressed by the fight scenes. Fight scenes are difficult to get right – I’ve seen a lot of shows where the actors are waiting to be hit in their scene and the whole thing just feels very clunky and awkward. This was not the case with Romeo and Juliet, with fight direction and choreography by Jonathan Purvis – in fact, I would say these fight scenes are the best I’ve ever seen. With such a large cast, executing the fight scenes in a way that is safe for the actors, yet didn’t look staged even though the blows and movements were perfectly timed is a great accomplishment.
One choice in direction that left me wanting a bit more from the production was the affair between Lady Capulet and Tybalt. On several occasions, Lady Capulet and Tybalt kiss and it’s implied they are going to bed together. Granted, I haven’t read the script in 10 years, but I wasn’t aware that secondary relationship was part of Romeo and Juliet, although it certainly makes sense why (Lady Capulet’s young age and likely arranged marriage to Capulet coupled with her reaction to Tybalt’s death). However, the way this theme was presented in the Citadel’s production of Romeo and Juliet left me either wanting it left out or further developed. The “impurity” of the Lady Capulet/Tybalt relationship, which is both adultery and incest, yet not outright condemned provides an excellent dramatic contrast to the “pure” but forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet. Including this secondary relationship in a more forthright way (or leaving it out altogether) would have been more satisfying than the way it was presented – almost as an afterthought that only really occurs in the shadows.
And I know you’re probably wondering about the run time… Yes, the show is three hours including a 15 minute intermission, but under Tom Wood’s direction, the show keeps up a fast pace, eliminating the tediousness of some Shakespearean plays.
Romeo and Juliet plays at the Citadel Theatre until April 27. Tickets start at $36.75