Romeo and Juliet.
Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. March 26 - October 8, 2004.

Kate Wilkinson
Sheffield Hallam University

Wilkinson, Kate. "Review of Romeo and Juliet , performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, March 26 - October 8, 2004". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 11.1-6 <URL:>.

Directed by Peter Gill. Set by Simon Daw. Costumes by Deirdre Clancy. Lighting by Hartley T A Kemp. Music by Terry Davies. Sound by Jeremy Dunn. Fights directed by Terry King. With Leo Wranger (Prince), Gideon Turner (Mercutio), Jonathan Forbes (Paris), Sion Tudor Owen (Montague), Anita Booth (Lady Montague), Matthew Rhys (Romeo), Trystan Gravelle (Benvolio), David Hargreaves (Capulet), Emily Raymond (Lady Capulet), Sîan Brooke (Juliet), Tam Mutu (Tybalt), June Watson (Nurse), John Normington (Friar Laurence), and others.

  1. The idea of buildings and houses was central to this production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford-upon-Avon, both visually and in the passages of text emphasized by the characters. The cream stage was dominated by a neo-classical balcony, and images of architecture from a similar period covered not only this free-standing wall (which acted as Capulet house, Friar Laurence's cell, and definition between inside and out), but also the side and back walls of the stage itself. They covered it, that is, except in places where the plaster had crumbled away, giving the stage a sense of dilapidation perhaps brought about by the feud between the two 'houses'. There was also the sense, conveyed through the crumbling plaster and the age of the architecture, that we were looking at a ruin: death and doom were emphasised from the beginning of the production. That said, the first act had many light-hearted moments, notably from Mercutio, the Nurse and the bumbling Friar Laurence.

  2. The first half of the production was characterised by innocence. The lighting was bright, as were the costumes: primary red for Capulet and blue for Montague. The costumes were essentially the same for both sides: Elizabethan in period, and modified only by a scarf for Romeo which highlighted his youthful melancholy. Everything was playful at this point; the first brawl on the street was comic, as was Mercutio's Queen Mab speech. Mercutio himself wore purple, highlighting his royal links but also placing him firmly between the two warring factions; his behaviour and mannerisms suggested a bit of a dandy. The seriousness of his 'plague on both your houses' speech was a contrast to this, and highlighted the tone's beginning to change as he lost both his innocence and life.

  3. Juliet was the epitome of innocence in this production, and hence the character who underwent the greatest change. When we first met her she was very childlike, her young years emphasised by both her nurse and mother, and she revealed her childishness through giggles and by wringing her hands in her apron. The oranges and pinks she wore also highlighted her youth next to the red of her parents and cousins. Juliet's first meeting with Romeo was rushed and the balcony scene was unfortunately unconvincing and lacking in chemistry. Romeo stumbled back and forth across the stage, spending most of the scene discoursing to the audience about Juliet's beauty while hardly looking at her.

  4. The whole tone of the production changed after the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, summed up in the powerful line from Romeo: "Now I have stained the childhood of our joy" (3.3.52). Peter Gill used the interval as a marker to emphasise the death of childhood and childish naivety as the bright lights went down on Tybalt's body. When they came up again, it was to grief-stricken characters. The anguish of Romeo and Juliet showed a great depth in the characters not seen during the first half: Juliet matured rapidly, visibly, and believably when she thought that Romeo was dead. It is significant that the balcony remained onstage throughout; the memories of Romeo's wooing and the concept of duty to the 'house' of Capulet were evoked by its imposing presence and gave a sense of inevitability to what befell Juliet in particular. In this context of death and separation, however, rather than adding light relief the continued comedy from the Nurse, Friar Laurence and Peter was simply misplaced.

  5. Matthew Rhys' Romeo was unfortunately unconvincing in his passion, first during exile in Mantua and later on hearing of Juliet's death. His lack of believable emotion at those times though was displaced by the deep tenderness with which he lifted the 'dead' Juliet up through the trap door grave that acted as the vault, a slight echoing of his words confirming the scene change.

  6. Essentially, this was not a bad production and there were some good performances, notably from Sîan Brooke as Juliet and Gideon Turner as Mercutio. However, there were times when the company seemed too large, and the actors wandering over the stage, for example during the feast and scene changes, diminished the mood by encouraging the audience to laugh. The theme of innocence and experience being found by youth through parental conflict was central to this production but was not always executed effectively, rendering the production not as moving or devastating as it could have been.

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© 2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).