Romeo and Juliet- Edinbrugh University Shakespeare Company at Pleasance Theatre: Tuesday 6th - Saturday 10th March, 1930.
The stage of the Pleasance Theatre is expansive, especially with the addition of a thrust and I felt that the set did not make full use of the opportunities afforded it. The architecturally sloped flats were a drab navy blue, which detracted from their interesting shape. Juliet’s window, wheeled around by two faithful chorus members, was underwhelming and often distracting when it got stuck in the wings. The only real points of interest were a scrappy light sculpture, disproportionately small, and a device using material stretched over the flats and back lighting to create a temporary window. The latter was effective when used, however it possible could have been used more.
During the audience-in the cast were arranged on the stage in a funereal tableau which nicely set the tone and without which the stage would have looked very bare, however as the production began they exited unceremoniously, rather detracting from the impact it had had. It was a nicely symbolic touch to have the Principal of Shakespeare Company Grace Dickson speak the prologue and onwards from this point the high standard of the acting meant that even with the small snags and weaknesses, this was a brilliant show. Will Peppercorn in the role of Mercutio was wonderful; his Queen Mab speech was one of the highlights of the evening, and he, along with Michael Black as Benvolio and Kirsten Millar as the Nurse particularly possessed that rare gift with young actors of Shakespeare of being to convey the Baird’s words with absolute clarity, speaking them as naturally and spontaneously as if they were their own. This was largely true of the entire cast; even smaller roles were clearly in command of the language and performed with total conviction.
Millar deserves mention also for her comedy and energy. Alongside her, Joe Christie as Peter, also bought warm and charming comedy, and the pairing added variation to the tone of the production.
Eliza Lawrence made an endearing Juliet- it is easy to forget how two dimensional the role is, though she relied heavily on fidgety movements to create naturalism, which sometimes became distracting. I also felt that an opportunity was lost here with her costume. Lawrence is captivating but she seemed to be dressed as herself rather than the young, wealthy, beautiful Juliet. Her ball dress was an unusual dull green two piece that carried no impact on stage, especially alongside the jewel tone dresses worn by Lady Capulet and other chorus members. There were some outstanding costumes, such as those of Lady Capulet and Escalus but overall, inconsistency gave the production the appearance of a rehearsal.
Maddy Willing’s composition supported the production beautifully. It was particularly effective during some of Romeo’s early speeches, when Finlay McAfee’s directorial skill first showed its hand. The cast were frozen in intricately constructed tableaux, allowing Romeo to move between them towards Juliet, captivated by her beauty. Douglas Clark is a very fiery Romeo and gives the role more graity than it sometimes has, for which he must be commended. Fight scenes were also slick, exciting, and full of energy, especially between Tybalt and Romeo. Blood and retractable blades, so often at risk of being gimmicky, were well deployed. The only minor weakness was that the choreography had omitted to consider the audience members like ourselves who were seated on either side of the thrust, so that certain illusions, though surely impactful from further back in the auditorium were lost for us.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre and a fine example of the acting talent in Edinburgh. It would be an ideal “first Shakespeare play” to see, and one might reasonably expect this to be the case for some audience members. It was perhaps not the show stopping 10th anniversary production that Shakespeare Society had promised us but a production to be proud of nonetheless and I am sure that many of the glitches will be ironed out by Saturday evening.