Set play

27th April 2001 at 01:00

Director Guy Retallack, touring England with Romeo and Juliet, bubbles with enthusiasm for the play, Shakespeare, and travelling drama. His long experience of touring adds to his enjoyment of how audiences respond differently at each venue.

The Wild Thyme company of 12 actors will present a fast-moving version of the star-crossed lovers' tragedy on a set that echoes its original Elizabethan staging. And yes, there will be a balcony.

With a setting in Elizabethan Ireland, Retallack feels the Irish accents "will give the language a natural, inhabited feel, so often neutralised in Received Pronunciation". Also, the setting underlines the Catholic context of the play, so evident in its imagery and action.

But Retallack emphasises that the enmity of the Montagues and Capulets is not Protestant versus Catholic. "Both families come from the same community. And as so often in tight communities, they are divided by a long-ago incident that everyone has quite forgotten. They just hate each other because they do."

Retallack is attracted by the lyrical verse of the play as much as by the story: "It's an intensely poetic play. For actors the challenge is how to perform the poetry dramatically." He explains how Shakespeare provides help to meet that challenge: "There's a thrilling dynamic in how the characters speak to each other. Even in soliloquy the language is active rather than reflective."

He is fascinatedby the way the play explores notions of masculinity and femininity. "It's not just the opening Sampson and Gregory episode. It runs throughout. At one moment Romeo declares that his love for Juliet has made him effeminate, and a moment later he explodes into fury and kills Tybalt. What is it about this society that brings out such aggressive responses in men, and where males are defined by violent action?" The Wild Thyme production will present the play as a tragedy not of fate, but of character. Retallack stresses that "both sets of parents seem incapable of communicating with their children. Capulet adores Juliet, but he loves her too much."

He points out that Verona is a society that does not allow the passion of true love, or honesty. When the nurse asks, "May one not speak?", the answer is all too evidently, "No, you may not". In this male-dominated society, ruled by an ineffectual Prince, men are free but women are imprisoned and ultimately crushed.

Retallack argues that in the play: "Shakespeare is extremely provocative and subversive. He contrasts a love that cannot be quantified with Capulet's and Montague's competitive bidding to set up statues in pure gold. Here are two young people, tragically dead, and their parents can only compete. It's pathetic, in the full sense of that word." REX GIBSON Romeo and Juliet tours to Wakefield, Harrogate, Hull, Liverpool, Swindon, Dartford, Torquay, Truro, London. Information: 0208 343 3828

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