The strikingly beautiful tableau, with which the cast of ‘Romeo and Juliette’ leaves the audience, is a very powerful finish. Juliette, in a deep red dress, contrasting with the minimalist, grey scenery, is draped over Romeo, surrounded by candles, whilst the cast look on in silence and leave one by one. In the final moments, red rose petals fall gently onto the two bodies, completing the tragedy.
However, whilst the aesthetics of this finish were truly faultless, the tragic climax is sadly undermined by a consistently flawed interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. The most shocking example of this is the balcony scene in which, in a valiant effort to avoid clichés and inject new life into one of the most famous scenes of theatre, Romeo and Juliette, played by Niels Schneider and Ana Girardot respectively, deliver many of the lines in a comic and not a romantic way. To their credit, they enlivened the scene but in such a way as to completely remove the spirit of the original text.
The vein of comedy, which many people might not have thought worth mining in a play like Romeo and Juliette – a tragic love-story –, was not just exploited in the balcony scene but throughout which did severely weaken the performance. The comedy was well-executed in the scenes with Romeo and his friends, for example, and the character of the Nurse was also suitably amusing but the juxtaposition of the comedy with the tragedy in this production simply rendered the tragedy unbelievable. This was particularly noticeable and destructive to the general impression of the play in the fight scenes where Mercutio and Tybalt are killed and whose deaths had an almost slapstick quality to them, enhanced by Mercutio’s terribly unconvincing portrayal of being mortally wounded. Mercutio, played by Dimitri Storoge, does not even realise that he has been wounded until he notices the substantial quantity of blood on his shirt and even then takes a surprisingly long time to become affected by the wound which leaves the audience a little bemused as they wonder whether this is an extension of the comedy which has dominated the rest of the play.
Another area of comedy which is developed in way which, whilst certainly appropriate for small sections of the play, is detrimental to the general performance is the sexualisation of Romeo and Juliette. Whilst innuendos suitably pepper the Nurse’s speech, Romeo and Juliette are presented simply as teenagers who can’t keep their hands off each other when they meet in Friar Lawrence’s cell. This rather disappointingly coarse portrayal of what is in the original text emphasised to be very pure love succeeds in disengaging the audience completely from the serious emotions behind the dialogue.
Even though the play does not remain true to the original spirit behind the text, the dialogue itself is rather faithfully translated and Anglophone audience members will recognise many of the classic lines. The production does provide entertainment and has isolated moments of great power; it is simply a shame that most of the play is unsuitably comic which fatally undermines the essential tragedy and original message of Shakespeare.
- By William Shakespeare
- Directed by Nicolas Briançon
- Adaptation by Pierre-Alain Leleu and Nicolas Briançon
- Cast includes: Ana Girardot, Niels Schneider, Valérie Mairesse
- Théâtre de la Porte de St-Martin, Paris
- Until 23rd April 2014
- Time: 20:00
- Review by Ronit Wineman
- 24th January 2014