Year of Shakespeare: Romeo and JulietTragedyYear of Shakespeare

  • Kate McLuskie
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This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.


Romeo and Juliet, Grupo Galpão, 19 May 2012 at The Globe, London

By Kate McLuskie, Shakespeare Institute

The Saturday afternoon crowd, strolling from Waterloo past the Globe  enjoyed a man in a bowler hat whose tuba spouted flames and 40s dance music, a very tall berambao player, a trad-jazz band and a flautist racing through a tune from The Magic Flute with dazzling precision. The crowd was friendly: a slowing of pace here, a smile there, but the only time people stopped was when the tuba flamed and I didn’t see anyone pay. I hope the performers covered the cost of their pitches.

The Elizabethan theatre builders were right: entertainment only works if you put a wall round it. Once the crowd was inside the Globe, we became an audience, keen to have a good time. At the Grupo Galpão show, we had a fantastic time. When the performers arrived at ground level, the crowd parted as one to let them through; we all clapped along to the music; the Portuguese speakers laughed at the verbal jokes and began, quietly, to sing along to the lullaby theme that carried the story’s wit and sadness through changes of tempo. The rest of us joined in whenever we could, applauding the most daring physical turns, laughing at Tybalt’s stammer and shrieking when Friar Lawrence finally sprayed us with holy-water in a wildly anticipated and perfectly timed gag. There was no need to read the surtitles that told the story of each scene, and no point, when the action was happening with such precision before us.

Grupo Galpão must have known they could rely on us. As my native informant said: ‘it’s Romeo and Juliet: we’ll get it’. We got it because Grupo Galpão had done their skilled creative work: the set was a platform on top of a J reg Volvo (they must have bought it at a used car lot in Brixton) with step ladders for added height and a silver moon with roses hung from fishing poles. The car, its windows ringed with stick-on flowers, was the women’s space. Girls hung out of the windows with tiny dolls as the boys played a toy-gun battle to set up the opening conflict. Juliet peeped out of the rear window to ask why Romeo was Romeo and Romeo replied from the car roof above. Best of all, the nurse took over the front, heaving her balloon bosoms out of the window in a gesture that got a huge laugh the first time but communicated her entire emotional palette as the story unfolded.

Each character’s signature action played multiple emotional roles.   The men on stilts were a gang of lads at the Capulet ball, dancing and groping their enormous doll partners, but the same stilts gave an edge of danger to the duel scenes and brought great pathos to the moment when Lady Capulet released the dying Tybalt from his. Juliet teetering en pointe in ballet shoes was silly in the love scenes and then heartbreaking when she performed a perfect dying swan dance to accompany her final lines. The Capulet family, lined up before the discovery space with Juliet lying dangerously on the edge of the gallery above them, used the same umbrellas that had balanced the stilt walkers or jokingly hidden the kissing lovers from view, to signal the funeral to a now silent audience.

Grupo Galpão also trusted us to listen to the language. Shakespeare himself (the bald head, the doublet and hose) spoke the prologue as well as providing the fish-rod moon for the lovers’ meeting and leading the band. Mercutio gave us Queen Mab at length but could also shift from mock heroic Portuguese to a howl of ‘I am hurt’, spoken in English. Juliet spoke her ‘gallop apace’ aria from the top of a step-ladder with the banished Romeo sobbing in hiding below. Some of us may have caught no more than  ‘suspirao’,allegria’ and ‘corazon’,  but ‘sigh’, ‘joy’ and ‘heart’ seems a pretty good distillation of a performance of Romeo and Juliet, especially when they were all so fully experienced by the crowd at the Globe.

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Author: Kate McLuskie

Kate McLuskie is Professor Emerita at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. Her principle research interest is the role of theatre and drama in early-modern culture and the impact of that drama on our own time.