Blood feud turns ugly

Kevin Berry

Barrie Rutter's Romeo and Juliet is both tough and passionate, says Kevin Berry.

There will be no classic sword play and no swooning romance in Northern Broadsides' Romeo and Juliet. Barrie Rutter's company's style, indeed strength, is vigorous, passionate "story acting" and an unshakeable belief in the power of northern voices - plus the obligatory clog dancing.

"It will be tragedy with a capital T," says Rutter. He blames the older generation in the play for its tragic events. The only adults treated with any sympathy are the Friar and the Nurse. "She says: Don't matter about bigamy, forget it, marry this one. So you're married twice? So you're bigamous? So what!" Juliet pleads for help but her parents turn their backs.

"We've used the word ugly a lot in rehearsals," says Rutter. "The treatment of the young lovers by the older generation is ugly and I want it to be ugly. I don't want romance, none of that luvvy-duvvy stuff. It's a condemnation of ugly acts." So is it to be an unromantic interpretation? "No, the romance is present. It's going to be very passionate and there's nothing unromantic about passion. Romance needn't necessarily be lethargic. Romance can be lusty, earthy and sweaty, as I think we showed in Antony and Cleopatra. It's not about groping in each other's gobs and kissing and hugging."

Rutter rails against the usual portrayal of love, idealised and softly spoken. He wants teenagers in his audiences to acknowledge the blood is rising in their own bodies and then shift their thinking to a society that says, OK as soon as menstruation has started in the girl she's ripe for marriage, but she can't choose a partner.

"The ugliness is a result of the older generation's attempt at arranged marriage. The Nurse and Friar intercede for what they think are good reasons; the two Houses intercede for their own ugly ends."

There is an ugliness in the deaths because suicide is cruel and terrible, and there is a deliberate ugliness in the chosen weaponry for fight scenes. No rapiers but thick axes and crow bars, the tools used to open Juliet's tomb.

Rutter is determined that the lovers will not end up in each other's arms; he wants the final image to condemn the watching society. Juliet's body will be suspended "like dead meat".

An idea from early on in the rehearsal process was to have the watching society on stage as often as possible. "In Act 5, once we've moved into the tomb, we want to have a silent choric witness there the whole time. It doesn't play any part but acts as a sounding board for the audience - also it gives alacrity to the text. There's no bringing on of characters, they simply step out of the chorus."

Romeo and Juliet tours with Antony and Cleopatra, one play showing youth betrayed and the other showing youth, in the person of Caesar, taking over.

Halifax, The Viaduct, Oct 4-12; Liverpool, Everyman, Oct 14-23; Worksop, Indoor Stables, Oct 24-25; Bury St Edmunds, Theatre Royal, Oct 29-Nov 2; Barrow, Forum 28, Nov 5-9; Wimbledon Theatre, Nov 11-16; Scarborough, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Nov 18-23; Skipton Cattle Market, Nov 26-30 Nov. Details: 01422 369704.

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Kevin Berry

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