Oh my. With so many versions of Romeo and Juliet under my belt (most enthusiastically including Franco Zefferelli’s 1968 film—cross-reference below), I have very high expectations for every new production.
Zeffirelli took artistic licence to open the film with a riveting battle between the hot-headed rivals, resulting in the death of Tybalt, unequivocally showing the mistrust between the clans. That level of enmity went largely missing here.
Although there was much to admire, overall, director Scott Wentworth’s production fell short of the mark.
The perennial favourite relies a great deal on the chemistry between the principals to convince that their love is really to die for. In this case, Sara Farb tried far too hard to be a thirteen-year-old (especially the petulant fits of pique) but didn’t fool anyone.
Antoine Yared’s Romeo was largely sincere but MIA were both his overriding passion for the love of his short life and devotion to the family brand.
And so the burning flame of love between the pair failed to fully ignite, robbing the playwright of his overriding intent.
The key dramatic device—Capulets versus Montagues—never found the deadly eruptions that blindly fuel countless wars around the globe then and now. As the bodies piled up—notably in the family crypt as the well-known play reached its climax—there was more a sense of relief (the curtain will soon fall) instead of despair with so many lives needlessly lost.
Playing Friar Laurence, Wayne Best gamely counselled, wed and provided the requisite fake poison elixir but couldn’t find the religious fervor to convince that—one way or another—he was doing God’s work.
Juan Chioran—as the no-nonsense Escalus, Prince of Verona—deftly laid down his version of the law but saddled with such squabbling, howling subjects couldn’t attain the esteemed rank of familial peacemaker (much more like the referees for WWE matches).
Seana McKenna fared much better playing Juliet’s long-standing nurse, yet was also pulled into the morass of hysteria where several helpings of knowing understatement would have added a welcome dose of balance to the comings, goings and endings of the doomed pair.
Gordon Patrick White’s Paris fired on most cylinders as chief Capulet’s (stoically done up by Randy Hughson) designated groom for his wayward daughter only to perish at the hand of her real love without much fuss.
The real tragedy in this version of the tale of the doomed couple was the lack of deep, unequivocal passion amongst all concerned, be they the lovers, feuding families or He Who Must Be Obeyed.
Playing to the lowest common denominator—there were lots of easy laughs—may well have delighted many in the crowd but only served to frustrate more than a few of the others by missing the Bard’s point. Yet, on reflection, that may explain why long-standing, ingrained enmity is not going to go out of fashion anytime soon. JWR