Romeo and Juliet @ Gyula, Hungary, 2015Tragedy

  • Zsolt Almási
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Let’s party until we cry!: Romeo and Juliet by The Flanagan Collective, 2015.

Reviewed by Zsolt Almási (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary)

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Photo by Zoltán Kiss.

When entering the auditorium to watch Romeo and Juliet by the The Flanagan Collective at Gyula, Hungary, one was immediately caught up in an unexpected situation. The chairs were arranged parallel to the walls extending to the stage, linking the theatrical illusion with the real world. Between the two times three rows of chairs there lay an empty space where the actresses in this all female, conceptual [1] Romeo and Juliet were dancing sometimes individually, sometimes in pairs or groups to modern pop music. Looking for our seats, we had to find our ways among the actresses, the audience sat down and slowly could make sense of what was going on. During the moments of puzzlement, we received small slips of paper, invitation cards for the Capulet party, some of us engaged in playing with balloons with the actresses, received Hawaiian necklaces. We were thus gently dragged into the play via the blurred transition between stage and auditorium, characters and theatregoers, the time of the real world and the time of the performance, which spell lasted to the end of the play presenting “a truer breed of Shakespearean love than I have ever seen performed.” [2]

 

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Photo by Zoltán Kiss.

The enchanted audience then was led into the all female world of this performance. In this all female world instead of Old Capulet, we met only Lady Capulet (Sarah Davieson), and all the characters were referred to as “she,” even Friar Lawrence (Holly Beasley-Garrigan), who remained Friar and “she.” But there was something more to the female world of Verona: a clear, tangible female touch to this world. She-Romeo’s (Emma Ballantine) and Juliet’s (Amie Burns Walker) love affair is genuine, playful and far from playing cheaply on the chords of homoeroticism. They fell in love with a pinch of children’s love that was innocent and powerful. I think one of the best examples for the female perspective would be the Nurse (Hannah Davies), who was less pragmatic than most of the interpretations of her character would dictate: she was just a kind, simple and loving woman, who not only wanted the best for Juliet but also who deeply loved her, and was genuinely afraid of losing her. Her words, her cardigan and posture all presented her as a modern woman touched by her little Juliet.
Music and songs (by Jim Harbourne and Edward Wren) also soften up the masculinity of prose and verse of the text of the play. The cast is at home in singing, especially Yoshika Colwell (Paris, Benvolio), well-versed in the use of musical instruments especially that of the guitar. They repeatedly sang a song, a song that was gloomy, painful and changed its meaning through and through when presented at various points in the play, creating something of a special atmosphere for the action. The actresses sang in solo, in pairs and groups keeping the dynamism of the performance, the rhythm of the constant and fluctuating movement of action and the feminine quality of the modern day Verona.

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Photo by Zoltán Kiss.

Even the modern thugs of this Verona are fascinatingly feminine carrying something from the warmth of womanhood. I deem the fight scenes from this perspective really telling, as these scenes could have been the most difficult with a female cast. The problem could have been to present the aggression and violence of a male world with a female cast, which could have turned the performance into an embarrassing comedy: girls pretending to be tough guys. The director’s (Alexander Wright) shrewd solution lay in two factors: he avoided making use of the symbolically male weapons—no rapiers, swords or guns for that matter appeared on the stage–on the one hand and found the combination of fistfight and dance in the characteristic movements of Capoiera on the other. The movements of Capoiera, an originally Brazilian martial art, nowadays is not used for real fighting, involve both skilful spinning high kicks and movement for a rhythm invoking fight and dance, power and flexibility, harm and harmlessness. A special flavour is added to the toughness of these scenes by Tybalt (Hannah Davies, also the Nurse) using a strong Yorkshire accent, invoking, maybe, lack of refinement, aggression.
The audience gently became involved in this performance resulting in losing sight of what was only theatrical illusion and what was real—solely best productions can achieve this. We played at the beginning of the play with the actresses, being afraid of being called to the stage to dance with them—fortunately this did not happen. The actresses had reserved seats in the auditorium, so when they had no stage-business, they quietly sat down and watched the action with the rest of the audience. Sometimes when there was a reference to a man in the text, they pointed at somebody in the audience. Other times they just crawled under the seats to enter the stage, or made a member of the audience give a shoulder massage to one of the characters, or (?) actresses. To show the power of audience involvement let me recall a moment from the play. The moment when Juliet (Amie Burns Walker) was just crying on the stage (real tears welled up in her eyes) and fell to her knees right in front of me, forgetfully I almost offered her a hanky. We, the audience, with these six charismatic actresses during this electrifying and enchanting performance could take part in a party until we cried with them.

 

[1] See Orsolya Drubina, “Koncert és katarzis: vegytiszta újrafogalmazásban” Tiszatáj online, 07/16/2015. http://tiszatajonline.hu/?p=82535

[2] Beth Sharrock, “YISF 2015: Romeo & Juliet” Unknown Magazine 05/10/2015 http://unknownmagazine.co.uk/yisf-2015-romeo-juliet/

Zsolt Almási

Author: Zsolt Almási

Zsolt Almási is associate professor in the Institute of English and American Studies, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary. His recent book is The Problematics of Custom as Exemplified in Key Texts of the Late English Renaissance (Lewiston-Queenston-Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2004). He is the co-editor of e-Colloquia: 16th- Century English Culture (http://ecolloquia.btk.ppke.hu Pázmány University Electronic Press – Budapest: ISSN 1785-6515), and was co-editor of Writing the Other: Humanism versus Barbarism in Tudor England with Mike Pincombe (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008) and New Perspectives on Tudor Cultures (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). His current research projects focus on Shakespeare and web 2.0.
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