Grover Theatre Company’s Berlin War era take on Romeo and Juliet offers a powerful and rich take on the play, both with making the most of old inspiration and setting the stage for new innovations among the characters.
Hannah Bird transposes the play into the years of conflict surrounding the divisions on opposites sides of the Berlin Wall. A row of blocks representing the wall itself run along the back of the set, posters from the opposing sides adorn the walls, and character’s prowl the stage in army jackets. Along with these visuals, it would have been interesting to see the setting have more impact both on the overall characters and their dynamics to each other, with little distinction between the two sides currently; however, given my lack of familiarity to the era, perhaps that was part of the intention.
It’s the relationships among the entirety of the cast of characters that really adds to the sense of tragedy among the opposing sides….
Carter Smith’s Romeo and Georgie Mitchell’s Juliet really embody the genre shift between the two acts in the performance. In the opening, their strongest moments are in comedy, with a sense of endearing awkwardness between the two and a knack for physical comedy. It makes the horrors of the second act all the more unnerving, with strong moments both together and apart. Romeo’s drunken despair and Juliet’s panicked hesitation prior to taking her poison are highlights, but their strongest moment has to be their wordless love scene, with a powerful mixture of romance and grief.
Mercutio (Kyle Leitermann) and Tybalt (Adam Forgione) help ease the transition from comedy to tragedy through their volatile, energetic portrayals, from Forgione’s opening with the clever repositioning of the famous thumb biting gesture to the final moment’s of the first act. Skye Macfarlene’s fight choreography is rich in characterisation and makes use of the characters’ dynamic right until the end. With the unpredictable and darker players gone, the lighter characters slowly evolve to take their place.
In particular, a regular scene stealer is Lizzie Pereira’s Nurse. While a strong comic performer from the beginning, the first act also takes time to show her bond with the Capulets, and in the second act goes against the usual trend of her remaining as strictly comic relief. Following the tonal shift, she’s simply stunning, glaring at Lord Capulet in withering revulsion as she bars his way to Juliet, while putting up a slowly thinning cheerful mask as her world crumbles before her, while truly doing all she can to protect her family. Despite Romeo and Juliet being both one of the most often adapted plays and one of my personal favourites, it’s a take I haven’t seen before, and the favourite performance of the role I’ve yet to see.
It’s the relationships among the entirety of the cast of characters that really adds to the sense of tragedy among the opposing sides, making use of wordless interaction either in the background of the scenes or to music. Tybalt and Juliet joke around at the ball and the Nurse even ropes Tybalt into a dance, and the closeness between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio makes the latter being the only survivor even more tragic. Along with the aforementioned love scene, the wordless opening of confrontation before even the prologue is a refreshing and vibrant opening for both the performance and the characters. However, the contemporary soundtrack can occasionally lessen the impact of the historical setting, especially when lyrics also have to compete with dialogue for the audience’s attention, and fades out could occasionally seem poorly timed. But when complementary rather than competitive Hannah Bird’s sound design really added to the performance, particularly in the instrumental backing of the monologues of the Friar and Mercutio.
With strong performances, skillful transition of genre and some beautiful moments of wordless innovation between the characters, GTC’s Romeo and Juliet is not to be missed.