Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant.
Shakespeare’s R & J, an adaptation woven together by Joe Calarco, poses pertinent questions on how society views the universal concept of forbidden love, in terms of both gender as well as race.
It’s the 1950s: a Catholic boarding school, four boys, and one night in a dormitory with a secret reenactment of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
This context allows for the audience to go on this contemporary journey of discovery and truth as one of literature’s most beloved stories is set in motion as the opening fight scene between the Capulets and Montagues takes place over and under bunkbeds with tennis racquets and cricket pads.
The chemistry between the four actors as well as their talent is undeniable. Matthew Baldwin, Tailyn Ramsamy, Dean Balie and Jeremy Richard masterfully portray multiple roles that allows for them to engage with a range of characters. Baldwin, as Romeo, paints a charming young man who is utterly lovestruck by the beauty that is Juliet (sincerely played by Ramsamy.) Along the way, we encounter Balie as the righteous Friar Laurence and the domineering Mercutio, whose death scene was pitch-perfect and left the audience reeling. Jeremy Richard as the hysterical British nurse dressed in bedsheets served as some welcome relief through this tragedy. The all-round ensemble work is exceptional and empathetic which lends itself beautifully to the writing of the Bard of Avon – which was clearly nurtured by vocal/verse coach Marcel Meyer.
Fred Abrahamse’s direction and vision is masterfully shown through the multifunctionality of set pieces and subtle costume choices that transports us from classroom and dormitory to balcony and tomb. The creation of the confessional with the chests and chairs was particularly memorable and constructed seamlessly by the performers. The lighting design by Abrahamse also stood out, especially in the moments where the cast used torches as the source of light when paging through the sacred play. This created a sense of secrecy and intimacy, which was central to the production.
One cannot deny the underlying message of this adaptation and its pertinence to our modern society. This story is as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare’s day and would be a shame if we do not expose audiences to these ideas that could shape people’s perceptions of love and who it should be shared between.
Shakespeare’s R &J is now showing at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino thru 8 September. Tickets are available from the website.