We all know that Romeo and Juliet were young teenagers. Have you ever seen the play performed by actors who are the right age? It turns out that it makes a HUGE amount of difference. I like it better this way.
This Romeo and Juliet is a creation of Larry Waller’s Captive Audience Community Theatre. You’ve seen them at festivals throughout the year, as living statues and Fagin’s tribe of pickpockets. The actors are all children who actively sought the roles following the drama workshops which Captive Audience runs. The play has been abridged, although it still runs at the length Shakespeare suggests it should take in the Prologue – just over 2 hours. Captive Audience make use of a wealth of expertise from trained actors, directors, and teachers who helped the children to master the Shakespearean language, understand their characters, and develop the performance.
Romeo and Juliet is staged in Strutts, in yet another different use of this space. End on, we see a basic set with cube constructions. It’s always nice to see a simple yet versatile set, and it was rearranged fluidly and seemlessly throughout the performance. The costumes were in a similar simple, modern style. There is nothing else to look at besides the actors in such a set. The weight of the play is entirely on them.
So what’s different about children performing it? Shakespeare used only adult men of inappropriate age. If that’s how it was, why is this better? For the majority of roles I would say that it doesn’t make much of a difference. There’s the same range of acting ability as you would see in any adult play locally. But for Romeo and Juliet, and their peer group, it makes all the difference. The play is vastly changed from what audiences might expect, without changing the play at all.
The use of children makes the play seem more brutal, more senseless, and comparable to thoroughly modern situations. Romeo and Juliet can often seem a little over the top. We can’t root it in our own lives. Then you see kids gang fighting in the street. Slow motion. Rapid attack. Leaping and knifing each other. Suddenly it is all too now. Too Derby. You’ve seen it in the news.
It’s not just age and cultural perception that made this a performance which I am very glad I saw. These kids managed to suck the awkward out of some very archaic bits of language which can make adult actors nudge the performance off kilter with a bellowed “Hark” or flat “Anon”. There were scenes which gave me an, “Ohhh! THAT’s how it should be done” feeling. Most of them were excellent at conveying emotions and whim which aren’t necessarily signalled in the bare text. Emotional tone was reversed from tradition in some cases, and it really worked to make the relationships between characters seem natural and recognisable.
They also did very well at the small amounts of comedy in this play. Ben Waller, Ben Dawson and the Musicians were perfect in the comic relief scene, which extended into a minstrel spot which was a nifty bit of stage trickery hiding a stage exit that shouldn’t be seen. Physical acting was excellent, and I was stunned by how long they can stay still, and seemingly unbreathing, in tableau or when dead.
Notable performances include George Comber as Romeo, who was absolutely brilliant, and together with Dolcie Stewart-Douglas as Juliet, performed a very natural recognisable teenage romance. A young girl in the audience was very taken by their performance and named the balcony scene as her favourite part. Molly Boursnell’s grief as Nurse was brilliantly performed and I’m sure I saw tears, and Leo Pedder as Benvolio is clearly very comfortable on stage. The entire cast of fifteen 11-15 year olds worked fabulously well together. There are two more whom I did not see, as Romeo and Juliet are played by different actors in alternate performances.
The original stage directions were reinterpreted for modern technology, and again, this worked perfectly and was mentioned by other members of the audience.
The death scene? Possibly the least hammy I have ever seen, practically vegetarian in the hamlessness.
I thoroughly enjoyed this. Not to spoil it if you do see it, but there is an action which each character takes at the very end, which I found beautifully and horrifyingly resonant with the contemporary world.
In summary – I never want to see adults in these roles again.
If you’d like to catch it, there are 2 shows left:
WHERE: The Strutts Centre, Belper
WHEN: Saturday 18th May
TIME: Matinee 2:30pm, Evening: 7:30pm
TICKETS: ONLINE or TEL: 07779118834.
Romeo: Philip Lamb and George Comber (different shows)
Juliet: Jessica Waller and Dolcie Stewart-Douglas (different shows)
Friars: Isabel Hawley and Solomon Thomas
Nurse: Molly Boursnell
Capulet: Peter Lamb
Lady Capulet: Emma Nelson
Montague: George Cooke
Tybalt/Musician: Ben Waller
Paris: Ben Pimperton
Mercutio: Maddie Bogue
Benvolio: Leo Pedder
Prince and Friar John: Dan Pimperton
Peter and others: Ben Dawson
The Apothercary and others: Jesamine Machin.
Directors: Larry Waller and Sheila Kay Sly
Assistant Directors: Sarah Holme, Geoff Moule and Henry Stubbs
Marketing: Paul Davies
Stage Manager Caroline Hawley
Music: Ben and Sophie Waller
Lighting and Sound: Jamie Vella
Backstage: Tracy Comber and Lucy Pedder