★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"EXCEPTIONAL TABARD PRODUCTION"
There is an exceptional piece of highly professional
work currently being presented, until August 8th, at
our delightful local Theatre , The Tabard.
Joe Calarco’s excellent and original, “Shakespeare’s R
& J. ,” is performed by four unusually talented young
actors, James Burman, Alexander Morris, Richard Hall,
and Jeremy Franklin, all of whom have had experience
at Stratford on Avon , with the RSC. They are skilfully
directed by Christopher Harvey.
With a simple, effective set, from Thom Harvey-Ball,
and with some inspired lighting, a rare performance
level is created, which would be the envy of any of our
major theatre companies.... were they even able to
achieve such delightfully fresh performances.
The setting is a classroom for bored public school
boys, who find, and surprisingly relish, a copy of the
Bard’s Romeo & Juliet.
They are inspired to act the play, in the course of which
they discover previously unsuspected elements of
themselves and their essential natures.
There are a few innocuous kisses from the ‘lovers’ , but
there is nothing remotely gay about this play. The
women are simply played by young men , just as they
would have been in Elizabethan times.
It is thrilling , moving, dramatic, surprising, - ( short !)
and a quite astonishing piece of work from such a
young group of actors, clearly destined for future
All of W4 should queue to see it...and the Tabard is
surprisingly cool !! Even when full,.... which it will be
for this production.
★ ★ ★ ★
"CERTAINLY THE MOST UNIQUE AND POSSIBLY THE MOST MOVING"
I’ve seen a few versions of Romeo and Juliet over the years. As one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, it must have been performed countless times around the world, with each production trying to put its own unique twist on this well-worn tale of star-crossed lovers. But even so, I’ve never seen an adaptation quite like Shakespeare’s R&J.
The play was written by Joe Calarco almost twenty years ago, and has since been performed all over the world, including the USA and London’s West End. This new production by Chapel Lane Theatre Company, directed by Christopher Harvey, began life as an amateur production at Stratford upon Avon in 2014, and is now resident until 8th August at the intimate Tabard Theatre.
Four students at a strict boys’ boarding school find an old copy of Romeo and Juliet, and read extracts to each other after class, with each taking on one or more of the characters. But what starts as a play within a play soon becomes much more complicated, and it’s difficult to determine where Romeo and Juliet ends, and real life begins. As two of the boys grow closer, all four must confront their own emotions. There are moments of joy, of violence and of unbelievable tension. But as the morning approaches, and their strict daily routine beckons, will the boys remember what they’ve been through together, or will it be a mere dream to be brushed aside as nothing?
Two of the actors – James Burman and Richard Hall – are reprising their roles from the play’s previous run at Stratford, while Alexander Morris and Jeremy Franklin are new additions to the cast. I had to look up in the programme which was which, though, because I genuinely couldn’t tell. All four young actors seem comfortable with their roles, and the gamut of emotions that each demands. Richard Hall and Jeremy Franklin have perhaps the more demanding task, as their characters struggle to understand and deal with the romantic relationship developing between their two friends.
R&J is a play about life and love, growing up and figuring out who you are. But it’s also a testament to the enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s work. A group of teenage boys, particularly one so indoctrinated in traditional gender roles, seems the least likely to identify with one of the world’s greatest love stories. And yet their sniggering and masculine posturing very quickly gives way as the power of the text takes hold – a reminder of why we still pay to see Shakespeare’s plays 500 years later.
As their two worlds begin to merge, the boys rearrange their school furniture to create the set for their drama, making particularly effective use of a length of red fabric during the violent scenes. A knock on the door following Tybalt’s murder could be the law looking for Romeo, or a teacher coming to discipline the students; the two stories are so intertwined by this point that it’s impossible to unravel them.
The play has a new ending, added by Joe Calarco to make its conclusion a little less bleak… but this is still Romeo and Juliet, after all, so don’t expect to walk out laughing. Of all the adaptations I’ve seen, this is certainly the most unique, and possibly the most moving – maybe because it touches on issues that still exist in our modern society, and consequently feels like more than ‘just a story’. There’s certainly a lot of food for thought to take away from this enjoyable production, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys their Shakespeare with a bit of a twist.
★ ★ ★ ★
Jonny Clowes"BRILLIANTLY ACTED AND TIGHTLY DIRECTED"
The Tabard Theatre in Chiswick, London, presents Joe Calarco's "Shakespeare's R&J", produced by Chapel Lane Theatre Company (based in Stratford-upon-Avon).
Imitating the only-male casts common to Shakespeare’s own day, the play is a clever adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set at an all-boys boarding school where four students act out the most famous love story in their dormitory, as relief from their daytime regime. Contained within a repressive setting of repetitive rote learning and martial marching, the four adolescents are inhibited by the typical traits of an all-boys boarding school: sexual frustration, frustrated masturbation, sextet conjugation.
Devoid of their own names, identity is complexly blurred by the boys’ escapism; as they take on the roles of the characters of fair Verona, fantasy and reality become obscured when the boys are literally given the lines with which to express their own feelings towards one another, until Amo Amas Amat infiltrates the dormitory as well as the classroom. The characters become caught up in the whirlwind of the freedom of the play-within-the-play as they take off their chokingly suppressive school ties and engage in a hauntingly accurate amount (lots) of deprived physical contact (a.k.a. boyish, common-room wrestling). The star-crossed lovers (the two schoolboys who play the eponymous couple) face their opposition in the form of homophobic jealousy rather than household rivalry - following the recent marriage legislation coinciding with worldwide Pride, the concept of the tragedy could seem antediluvian but reminds the audience of the lengths we still have to go for equal rights.
Even though it resembles coming-of-age films such as ‘The History Boys’ and ‘Dead Poets Society’, in its own right the play manages to refresh and renew a story that has been repeated more than its fair share, in a way that feels natural and unforced by both the actors and the playwright. Shakespeare’s words are seamlessly used in this modern setting resulting in lines such as ‘Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books / But love from love, toward school with heavy looks’ being ingeniously given a revived and significant meaning. Calarco’s script is also sprinkled with other Shakespearian gems - what’s a love story without Sonnet 18? – and moments of dramatic silence that are carried by the talent of the actors.
Brilliantly acted by all four cast members and tightly directed by Christopher Harvey, the humble (only 96 seats) performance is intimate, engaging and touching and worthy of the initial success that drove it, like Shakespeare himself, from Stratford-upon-Avon to London.
★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Cox"FANTASTIC TO WITNESS SUCH YOUTHFULNESS POURED INTO SHAKESPEARE"
Shakespeare’s R&J is an all male telling of the classic story set within the walls of a strict religious boarding school. As the gaggle of energetic lads stumble upon the text for the first time, we witness their jovial exploration of the timeless lovers and the effect it has on their own lives.
Cast mates shun their lover friends after testosterone filled pillow fights, while Juliet, of course played by a boy, daringly unbuttons Romeo’s shirt and indulges in some tentative kissing. This production has all the adolescent charm you’d expect from its location of choice but not much more.
New play it ain’t, the stripped back approach works well to revitalise Shakespearean text and if you’re usually put off by the big scary bard I assure you that you’ll follow this story with ease. The young and passionate cast all demonstrate impressive control of language while juggling with the play’s context, despite falling slightly short towards the end. It seems on occasion the concept inhibits pace and the constant step back put the breaks on some fine performances.
That being said this re-telling gives way to vigorous, imaginative and playful storytelling, which delightfully stays organic throughout. It’s fantastic to witness such youthfulness poured into Shakespeare and if you like a little rough play, the boys serve all of the teenage masculinity without any of the camp.
Alexander Morris’ Juliet is subtle and inviting, steering clear of highlighting gender, instead offering a truthful and reflective performance. Richard Hall shines in his variety of characters and the handsome James Burman has a naive woundedness that sits perfectly with Romeo.
Many years on from the first outing of this production it begs the question whether Joe Calarco’s work is worth revisiting? With so much change in the gay sphere since it was originally conceived the show is bound to pack less of a punch, but the terrified teenage boys tenderly touching each other’s hand for the first time is something we can all fill with warm nostalgia.
The timeless reinvention of Shakespeare’s work means R&J is bound to have another jaunt and rightly so, as it’s forced open wide by what is essentially a celebration of the joy and experience of performing.
Calarco tells us for eighteen years he’s been refusing to use the word ‘gay’ in regards to his play. Which hopefully says more about the theatre industry than his own self-criticism, but with this production he is finally embracing the (quite obvious!) gay vibes. Well Joe, we are glad you have and welcome to the family!
★ ★ ★
Paul Vale"AN OVERLY SINCERE BUT LIKEABLE PRODUCTION"
In a public school, the boys are taught gender politics by rote in a disciplinarian regime. By night, they turn to the pages of Romeo and Juliet for excitement and begin to question the status quo as they experience the passion and violence of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy. Through Joe Calarco's piece four schoolboys play all the characters: what begins as a piece of horseplay ends up as a rights-of-passage drama.
The author might play fast and loose with Shakespeare's text but it works with a cast of adolescent characters. Eager to impress, they highlight the violence and misogyny of the play but things become more complex as the romance unfolds. Director Christopher Harvey marries the split story well, slipping seamlessly between classroom and Verona with engaging but simple theatrics.
The cast attempt to lay bare the guts of the story and aside from a few gloriously over-the-top moments, they succeed. James Burman is a suitably fiery Romeo, but that's nothing compared to Alexander Morris, who uncovers a petulant, positively aggressive streak in Juliet that may have hitherto gone un-noticed. Calarco's premise may seem seriously dated but it provides an interesting method of breaking down the gender politics of Shakespeare's plays.
No star rating given
Penny Flood"IT'S POWERFUL STUFF"
This production by Chapel Lane Theatre takes a look at what happens when art and life overlap
This is a play within a play, an interesting, very effective take on Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, as four teenage boys discover there's more to life than algebra after getting hold of a copy of the book.
The boys, James Burman, Alexander Morris, Richard Hall and Jeremy Franklin, live a tightly regimented life in a public school where they recite Latin verbs, say their prayers and are taught old fashioned ideas about women.
But it all changes when they retire to their dormitory, that's when they can start to have fun. They're going to act out Romeo & Juliet with each of them taking multiple roles. Naturally this includes the female roles - Juliet, her nurse and her mother as well as the occasional servant, just as it would have been played in Shakespeare's time .
At first it's a laugh, and they're puppyish in their enthusiasm, the opening scene is funny, and they throw themselves into the action. It's loud, fast and frenetic with some terrific fight scenes, but it doesn't stay like that. As the play goes on, the atmosphere changes and things becomes less light hearted. The deeper they get into the play, the more the boys realise that there's more to life, love and sex than anything they've been told or have experienced; a revelation that affects them all in different ways, not least in the dynamics of their relationships with each other. Now, they're not just reciting Shakespeare's lines, they're absorbing them, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
This makes it particularly interesting for the audience because instead of watching a story about something that happened in Verona a long time ago, we're watching it in the here and now in real time. The boys aren't playing at Romeo & Juliet, they're living it, right to the end where tension is electrifying.
It's powerful stuff.
A great big well done to the four boys and to Christopher Harvey who directed it as well as sorting out the lighting and the sound.
No star rating given
British Theatre Guide
Nina Romain"GOOD WRITING IS GOOD WRITING"
Chapel Lane Theatre Company’s latest production starts with four unnamed boarding school students sneaking into an abandoned room while the rest of the school sleeps. Bent on mischief, they decide to entertain themselves by reading out loud the bawdiest parts of the first book they lay their hands on, which turns out to be the titular Shakespearian classic.
The four actors make the most of the Tabard's tiny stage, which hardly seems big enough to fit in the only furniture, a small table and four chairs. Set designer Thom Harvey-Ball overcomes the space restrictions to recreate the claustrophobic setting of the "strict boarding school" that director Christopher Harvey describes, with the cluttered litter of schoolbooks piled high on the shelves, a blackboard crammed with conjugated Latin verbs the students have to memorise and scuffed tables and chairs.
The effect is so realistic, the audience can almost smell the blackboard chalk and unwashed gym wear of a huge building crammed with teenage boys forced to live, study and sleep in close quarters with each other.
The heat is another factor with which the actors struggle gamely, as they first appear in school winter blazers and long trousers. On the hottest day of the summer so far, this must have been a trial, especially during the energetic opening scene.
But shining with a endearing mixture of thespian enthusiasm and sweat, the small cast play at least 12 characters in all, counting Shakespeare's characters as well as the unnamed students. They play so many roles that for clarity the programme simply lists the main characters and then adds “etc”.
Director Christopher Harvey explains how reading the play helps the students discover their "innermost feelings" with art imitating life. Students 1 and 2 find the Shakespearian textbook takes over their everyday lives and makes it easier to express their emotions towards each other, as they start reading the parts of the two leads.
With the four actors playing Lady Capulet, the Nurse and of course the female titular role, the audience sees exactly what the Bard would have seen until female actors were allowed onstage after the English Restoration in 1660.
Richard Hall makes the most of the comedic possibilities as Lady Capulet and Friar Laurence (among others) and Jeremy Franklin adds a touch of menace to his performance of Tybalt. Without these two, the remaining lines are played fairly straight, although the play could have used more humour, as when Juliet snappily orders her servants around.
Meanwhile, James Burman as Student 1/Romeo and Alexander Morris as Student 2/Juliet successfully carry a great deal of the play on their blazer-clad shoulders. They have to convince as both Latin-reciting scrubby schoolboys, as well as the world's most famous doomed couple; and Burman and Morris adroitly morph from classmates to lovers and back to dorm-mates again as the play ends.
Playwright Joe Calarco states in the programme that his new ending, playing for the first time at the Tabard, is intended to be less "desolate". His original ending had Student 1/Romeo standing alone on the stage as the curtain falls, sadly reciting a line from early on in the original and then starting to falter (act 1, scene 4): "I dreamt a dream tonight. I dreamt...I dreamt...I dreamt..."
Calarco also mentions how he now feels that, nearly two decades after writing the play, (and with marriage equality a current topic) the role of two male actors kissing would be less "shocking/dangerous".
However, good writing is good writing, the play has thrived, and will continue to do so as long as dreams are dreamt.