It was a wonderful production.
Again I appreciated being able to go to a comfortable local venue to enjoy the play. I recommend registering on the Thornden Hall Booking Office site as I have found this makes it easy to book and print out tickets. This saves a lot of queuing time! The FAQs section of the Thornden Hall site gives useful information. See the link.
The time frame of Romeo and Juliet
I had an interesting discussion after the play with those with me. Could Romeo and Juliet be set outside its own time frame as Shakespeare devised it?
We thought not given the major plot device hangs on a letter not reaching Romeo in time. With the advent of modern technology, especially the developments in social media, the idea of there not being an alternative to getting through to Romeo seems absurd.
So whenever the play is produced, for me the timing of the play has to be before the ready availability of mass communication.
But that doesn’t mean there is only one way to show this play, far from it. The cast were dressed in 1950s style clothing, the production was shot in black and white and a feeling of Italy in the 1950s/1960s with its glamour was conjured up.
The cast were convincing. You could feel the power of the words flowing from them. As ever with Shakespeare, when the meaning was not quite clear given Elizabethan English can sound like another language at times, the acting clarified.
It is thought Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare between 1591 and 1595. It has inspired countless productions, other stories based on the same theme and has gone into the language as code for star crossed lovers. It has also led to one of my favourite Dire Straits tracks…
It was also good to see one of my favourite comedy actresses in this play – Meera Syal plays Nurse and she was great. The funniest moment was her robust response to being referred to as an “ancient woman” by Mercutio, played by Sir Derek Jacobi.
And, as with Hamlet, the laugh out loud moments took me by surprise.
You know the story of the play is a tragedy so do you expect to laugh on the way to what is a sad ending? No!
And despite knowing the ending, did it still come as a shock? Yes, because by then I was gripped by the characters and the way they were portrayed, you could see how everything was building up to that final moment but still wished for it to be otherwise. Now that’s a sign of great writing!
The use of music throughout the play was interesting and added to the sense of underlying tension. Sir Derek Jacobi, as well as being a marvellous actor, proved to have a great singing voice, which came as a revelation. I know him best from I Claudius and his role as Professor Yana/The Master in Doctor Who.
There have been a number of instances where Doctor Who actors take on Shakespearean roles and fans of the science fiction have then gone to see them on stage. This happened when David Tennant played Hamlet. It has also proved true for Sherlock fans when Benedict Cumberbatch also played the role of the moody Dane. And I would not be sorry if anyone went to see this production with Jacobi in it because of that connection.
I’ve come to appreciate Shakespeare relatively late in life but it is better late than never. The stories of Shakespeare still resonate but people need to see they do, so anything that draws them in should be encouraged.
Where Shakespeare does prove to be timeless is in his message. So what is the message of Romeo and Juliet?
The obvious theme is of love being stronger than hatred and death. I also thought it showed up the stupidity and pointlessness of endless hate and revenge seeking and the violence and tragedies it causes. And sadly (because we should have moved on as a species here but haven’t) this is still a timely message.
The play also shows the intensity of love, especially first love, really well. You can’t avoid the emotion of this play. Shakespeare would have written this story knowing it would generate an emotional response from whoever saw it.
It would be nice to think this story perhaps helped real feuding families watching it stop their feuds without the need for tragedy to force the ending. Of course that is speculation but I like the thought of that. And I strongly suspect the Bard would have done so too.
Maybe he was also taking a bit of a risk here given his patron, Queen Elizabeth, came from a family that was not best known for its give and take approach to life, especially her father (who focused on the taking!).
Did I want there to be a happy ever after ending? Yes.
Was I relieved at the reconciliation between the Montagues and Capulets? Yes.
After the rest of the play for those families to have still been at loggerheads would have been a gross insult to the memory of Romeo and Juliet. It is not always easy to find the right spot to end a story but Shakespeare was a master of getting this right. There is nothing you could add to the play’s ending without weakening in it. The impact of the tragedy must hit hard.
And the play has inspired so much music, including one of my favourite classical pieces.
And Shakespeare’s closing words “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo” echo down the centuries, tugging at the emotions as they did when the play first appeared. It really is a huge achievement for any one writer to attain and he did so repeatedly.
I don’t accept that other authors, notably Bacon, wrote any of the Bard’s works. After all nobody, to my knowledge, has queried Dickens writing so many wonderfully different stories. But we should celebrate our literary heritage and Romeo and Juliet does prove two things.
Firstly, that we British can be as sentimental as say the Italians and the French when it comes to matters of the heart.
And the second thing? Shakespeare knew what his audience liked! There is a lesson for all writers in that!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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