My wife and I saw Romeo and Juliet at The Old Globe earlier this week. Director Barry Edelstein delivered an entertaining, high-energy interpretation that at times veered into parody, such as numerous meta nods to West Side Story and a long diversion to perform the entire song “Copacabana.” Granted, Manilow, Sussman, and Feldman make up one of the top writing crews in recent history, and the song has a great story arc. But, Copacabana was already done as a musical, and by the original team to boot.
That quibble aside, what I loved about using the song “Copacabana” was that it opened up the faintest hint of a possibility that this Romeo and this Juliet might escape the ending the play demands, because in the song the showgirl Lola lives on – insane but alive – after her lover Tony’s death. I think every director who tackles Romeo and Juliet has to figure out how to bring an element of surprise to the ending, because the bigger the surprise the bigger the tragedy. The story is so well-known that, without some kind of surprise, you’re just watching two characters gliding toward the crypt. Of course, Shakespeare himself does a fair amount of heavy lifting in the text, with hidden purposes, risky choices, and missed connections. But, those are all very familiar, even to those who don’t study Shakespeare. I think using “Copacabana” as a bit of restricted foreshadowing was a nifty trick.
I loved the use of a sandbox as the set. That brought both senses of the word “play” to bear on the production, both as a set and a commentary on the action.
I especially appreciated that Edelstein chose to have Juliet wake up just before Romeo dies, so they share a final living kiss. To me, that makes the tragedy. If Juliet wakes up to find Romeo dead and then kills herself, that’s sad, yes. But if we see just how close the plan came to working, and Juliet kills herself knowing they got within a hairsbreadth of a happy ending, that’s tragic.
Quite a lot of text was cut, so the play moved fast. In all, I thought it was a delightful production, a Romeo & Juliet that blazed like a summer sparkler on the beach.
While we were there, I checked out The Old Globe shop, and found a small selection of clearance books. After much pondering, I chose How To Do Shakespeare by former RSC Artistic Director Adrian Noble. I’ve only just started reading it, but it seems Noble has picked up the meaning-and-direction-are-embedded-in-Shakespeare’s-text baton from RSC founder John Barton. I largely agree with this premise; I think Shakespeare wrote to be easily recalled and performed. That’s what makes his stuff so memorable, and it’s why studying Shakespeare is essential for advertising copywriters.
I’ve watched Barton’s wonderful BBC TV series Playing Shakespeare a few times over, and have been looking for the companion book ever since. This book by one of Barton’s successors scratches that itch quite nicely.