We had tickets to see Rupert Goold's production of ROMEO AND JULIET during the Royal Shakespeare Company fall season at the Roundhouse in London, but the snowstorm made travel to North London impossible, so we got tickets for its return engagement in the newly refurbished theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon. This way we could see the new facilities and a production we wanted to see.
The trip up and back was longer and more tedious than usual. Because of track work, we had to take a train to Birmingham, walk between New Street Station and Moor Street Station, then get on a small train that made seventeen stops between Birmingham and Stratford. The train was like a third class carriage out of the nineteenth century, dirty and overcrowded. We walked down to the theatre complex hoping to have a nice lunch in the Riverside Cafeteria, but there is no longer a nice cafeteria. It has been halved in size and is a coffee bar with a few sandwiches. In fact, all the public spaces are less satisfactory than before. The new lobby is very shallow. To get from the new box office to the main theatre, one has to wend one's way through the souvenir stands. The passageways leading into the auditorium are narrow and not well marked causing crowds of people in cramped space. Whoever planned the spaces had no conception of flow of people. The new bathrooms are small so there are long lines to the ladies room on the narrow hallways during the interval. The lovely old lobbies are now bars -- in fact dispensing alcohol seems to be a priority now. The front of the main theatre looks derelict with boys biking and skateboarding on the steps and ramps when actually the old entrance would be the best way into the new theatre. The renovation looks cheap and is anything but beautiful. The new auditorium is functional. As expected, it is like the temporary theatre they have been using -- a thousand seat auditorium with the audience seated on three sides of a large thrust stage. However, with only two entrances on every level, getting in and out of the auditorium is a problem. There is no longer a nice bookshop and souvenir store -- that too has been turned into a bar. So the RSC has destroyed what was a lovely, functioning theatre building to create a homely one that does not function well as a public space. They should rethink the use of space -- turn the new lobby into a bar-cafeteria and use the old lobby and entrance. What happened to the beautiful art deco box office kiosk? There is a new tower that is not essential and does not fit nto the original architecture, but if one pays £2.50 treks up three flights of stairs, then takes the lift up, one gets a lovely aerial view of Stratford and the countryside.
I think the critics were very generous to the production of ROMEO AND JULIET -- or the actors have simply gotten tired of performing it. Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale did give comitted performances in the title roles. Troughton (His father, a fine character actor was a mainstay of the company for years. His grandfather was the second DR WHO) is one of those actors with no notes in his voice. He can go loud and soft but with no variety of intonation. He speaks clearly and made sense of the language. He also avoided making Romeo's post-banishment weeping and wailing moving rather than irritating (Goold followed contemporary practice and conflated and shortened the scenes of Romeo and Juliet lamenting Romeo's banishment). Gale is a homely actress and played Juliet as a gawky adolescent, but was always affecting. In many ways, she was the best Juliet I have seen. Eveyone else was mediocre. Jonjo O'Neill's Mercutio was obnoxious -- I wanted to cheer his death. The rest phoned in their performances. I have never seen actors make so little of the Nurse or Lord Capulet or even Paris. They may have been avoiding the conventional interpretations of their roles, but they had no ideas of their own about their characters.
I have mixed feelings about Rupert Goold as a director. I have seen fine work, like his TIME AND THE CONWAYS at the NT and SIX CHARACTERS at Chichester, and dreadful, self-indulgent work like his TURANDOT for the English National Opera. Here he had a few directoral ideas that were not fully developed. We begin in a contemporary Italian museum with Romeo hearing the prologue through an audio guide. Romeo and Juliet are in contemporary clothes while everyone else is in period costume, until the final scenes when they are also in period clothing. Is the young man in the museum imagining himself as Romeo and imagining his Juliet? Why the change in costume? Why does Bathasar sing his crucial Act V lines in falsetto. The production was well staged, but not well directed -- that is, other than Romeo and Juliet, I felt no relationships between the characters. The RSC has proudly promoted this ensemble as a return to being a real repertory company but I didn't see ensemble acting -- I saw a lot of individuals who were not clarifying character relationships. This company has been working together for two years now. Perhaps they are tired of each other and the plays they are performing.
ROMEO AND JULIET. Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. March 19, 2011.