Cut to the action

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Heather Neill previews Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare's Globe

Director Tim Carroll says it is impossible to watch Romeo and Juliet without feeling the divide between age and youth.

The Nurse and Friar Laurence are well intentioned, but do not give the best advice to the young lovers. "But I am struck," says Carroll, "by the similarity of their situations. All decisions are made under extreme time pressure; hardly anyone, old or young, has the time to make decisions satisfactorily."

The action of the play takes place in only five days. Carroll says that people sometimes think, erroneously, that it is Juliet's play, that she drives the plot. "This is because, when Romeo carries the plot in the first half, he has Mercutio, Friar Laurence and Juliet to help him. Later Juliet does so on her own. But the play is about these two people and all those around them."

Like all directors, Tim Carroll has made cuts, partly to emphasise the speed of events. Some lines are important for other reasons than to advance the plot, however.

Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech is a particular example of this: "It is important that we know more about Mercutio, to care when he is killed and to understand why it matters so much to Romeo. Mercutio is a precious person, a one-off, someone you really want to know, surprising and so clear-sighted."

Although this is a mixed cast, with a female Juliet (Kananu Kirimi) and a male Romeo (Tom Burke), the Nurse is played by a man, Bette Bourne, according to a "venerable and glorious comic tradition of men playing ageing ladies".

The costumes are Elizabethan and will show the distinction that Shakespeare makes between the upper classes who are Italian in name and dress and the earthier, colloquial-speaking English servants. Carroll says that the play is very like a comedy until Mercutio's death. He says that people might think afterwards that there were clues to the tragedy in the early scenes, but "we must rehearse like the characters, ignorant of what is going to happen next".

The play was not written for the Globe - it is too early - but the balcony scene is forever associated with the theatre.

"It is good", says Carroll, "that the balcony is so high. It really is difficult for Romeo to reach her. Being near enough to kiss would remove the tension."

* For information about Adopt an Actor (students interview characters in Romeo and Juliet), see website

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