Streetspeare Presents Romeo and Juliet
PETER LEGGATT Calls for a plague on one specific house: “This play has a lot in common with a terrible, terrible night at Cindies”
Corpus Playroom, 30th Nov-4th Dec , 9.30 pm, £5-6
Directed by Jeff Carpenter
‘Streetspeare’? More like ‘Shitspeare’. This production has a lot in common with a terrible, terrible night at Cindies. It had bad dancing, thinly masked social awkwardness, people saying things that didn’t make sense, and incessant chintzy music coming from a weird man who played the keyboard onstage. I felt embarrassed on behalf of the actresses I was watching. And all this with no VKs to hand?now I call that inhumane.
I have absolutely no idea what this production was trying to achieve, and severe doubts that it knew any better. The emotional valence veered wildly; Balthazar, delivering (misguided) notice of Juliet’s death to Romeo, came in on a space hopper, falling flat on his face. No one laughed, and that pretty much sums things up. If this play was meant to be comic, it failed. That it tried at all fatally punctured any sense of tragedy.
The butchering of the script was such that many lines just didn’t make sense. In II.iv Mercutio accuses Romeo of abandoning his friends:
Mercutio: You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.
Romeo: What counterfeit did I give you?
Mercutio: The slip, sir, the slip. Can you not conceive?
Mercutio puns on ‘slip’ to mean both ‘escape’ and ‘counterfeit coin’. Streetspeare omitted Mercutio’s unravelling of his wordplay, however, so the first line becomes nonsense. Elsewhere, complements were torn out of the sentences to render them meaningless: Friar Laurence’s claim that ‘Oh she [Rosaline] knew well’ means nothing without what follows – [that] ‘Thy love did read by rote, that could not spell.’
But these are relatively minor flaws compared to the glaring incongruities that obliterated the play’s structure. For most of the performance Paris’ scenes were included, but his presence at the tomb of Juliet and the fight scene that ensues where Romeo kills him were both cut, so he just disappears. Unless he was made to die suddenly earlier on; there was a ten minute period in the middle where I tried to fall asleep. I failed – I was too stressed.
The director, who I think was Jeff Carpenter (understandably, he hadn’t put his name on any of the publicity), had obviously seen Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and decided to fuck it – as well as Shakespeare’s play – up. Lady Capulet’s umbrella, the casting of the Prince as a policeman, the shoulder massage Juliet gives her Nurse, and Mercutio’s feather boa (in the film part of his fancy dress for the Capulet party, in this production bizarrely sported throughout) – all were lifted straight from Baz, in direction less original than Jordan’s tits.
Original touches were worse, however. Why is Benvolio the only Scouse Montague? They’re all the same bloody family. Could the Montague clan not afford vocal coaching for the weird Liverpudlian cousin Romeo has grown up with in the same, Italian city, Verona? They could, they’re rich.
The acting was largely awkward and poor. In fact, I felt sorry for any parents who came to see their children perform in this play, who would have had to pretend it was good afterwards. But I’m getting angry writing this, so I’m going to stop. There was one good thing. There were even moments when the actors hinted at unlocked potential – but this was not the play to showcase any kind of talent.
Oh, and did I mention it was quite short? That was good too.
This article was edited on December 2nd to correct an error in the sixth paragraph; the reviewer had written Mercutio when he meant Benvolio. This makes no difference to his point, of course, but should quiet the pedants.