Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
What would have happened if Romeo had woken up a few minutes earlier at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy and the ‘star-cross’d lovers’ had survived? How would the fourteen-year-olds’ romantic dream have stood up to the test of time, ageing and the stresses and routines of married life? Ephraim Kishon’s play, brought to the Electric Theatre stage this week by the Guildburys, sees the situation thirty years after their survival: Juliet as a discontented, frustrated wife and Romeo a seedy middle-aged husband with money worries and mother-in-law problems, battling with each other over the disappointments and disillusionment of it all. And who do they blame? The author, literally, of their troubles: William Shakespeare himself!
That’s where it gets surreal, for Will himself is haunting them. Written as iconic romantic lovers, now they’re locked in an archetypal marital conflict. Only Will can solve their problems and he’s much more interested in strutting like a peacock, declaiming in blank verse (unlike the rest of the characters, he’s forgotten how to speak prose except at moments of great stress), and attempting to seduce their own fourteen-year-old daughter, Lucrezia. Lucrezia, a modern “daughter from hell” is totally up for it; according to Juliet’s old Nurse, now a friend of the family, she takes after her mother Juliet at that age!
This a rumbustious take on Shakespeare, and incidentally a romp through the text of several plays. Friar Lawrence is senile and keeps thinking he’s in ‘Hamlet’ and Shakespeare himself is prone to declaiming from Macbeth, Julius Caesar and the history plays, in his conversations with the unhappy couple. We’re the groundlings, and at one moment the Bard invites our questions – so you might want to come to the play with an inquiry he can answer from the grave – for instance, who did he leave his very best bed to?
As always, the Guildburys have brought all their enthusiasm and dramatic skills to bear on this production, directed by Steffen Zschaler. Jonathan Constant is a wryly humorous, hen-pecked Romeo, harried by Danielle Buckett, his shrill, disillusioned Juliet, in scenes of marital discord that may strike a chord with many middle-aged couples. But their mutual support against Shakespeare also rings true. After all, they’re in the position of discontented children complaining to a parent, ‘I didn’t ask to be born!’
Ian McShee as the preening ghost of Shakespeare is brilliant. His dancing, self-congratulatory body language and swift changes of oral tone and register are a delight. Tuuli Albekogliu is Lucrezia, a tall streak of defiance who transmutes to a capricious temptress when Shakespeare is about. Tina Wareham gives a memorable, humorous and professional performance as the old Nurse, and Graham Russell-Price’s interpretation (in faux-Irish) of Friar Lawrence in our “Me Too” age is very funny. And Tautvydas Kuiiesius, the guitarist, deserves an accolade for his amazing cockerel impersonations!
This satire was written after Kishon had survived Nazi concentration camps in Poland, and three marriages. He clearly learned much in his long life – above all, how to laugh!
This review was first published online at www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre