Article 19’s production of Romeo and Juliet is exactly how student drama should be done. The venue, (Rainbow Courtyard) the vision, the music, the acting, and Vita Fox’s direction contributed to an extremely high quality production that a professional company would have been proud to put on. This adaptation was set in 1966 and was filled with cute costumes, and an incredible score of music. The band, comprising of Sam Forbes, Lily George, and Ben Lyth, were fully immersed in the performance, from interacting with the actors to setting the tone of the scenes. Having a live band on stage brought so much to the performance; at one point during the play Juliet (Phoebe Ruttle) asked Forbes to play a more upbeat song for them to dance to. As the audience entered the venue they were asked to join the cast members for a dance on stage. There was a fair bit of audience interaction, but nothing cringe-worthy! Capulet (Touwa Craig-Dunn) handed out letters to members of the audience, and at points some of the actors would sit at the audience’s feet. For example, Mercutio (Becky Hansell) positioned herself between two people in the front row who had to awkwardly move their legs to make room for her.
The acting overall was of a very high standard. Benvolio (Elliot McDowell) and Mercutio (Hansell) brought some much-needed comic relief in the play, and Grace Hussey-Burd played a sultry Lady Capulet. Beth Gilbert gave a charming portrayal of the Nurse; she was particularly good when informing Juliet of Tybalt’s death, bringing real emotionality to the heartbreaking scene. Similarly, Catherine Butler shone in the role of the Friar. Towards the end of the play, when she becomes aware of the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, the pain she feels is palpable. Tom Ling and Phoebe Ruttle were wonderful as Romeo and Juliet. Ruttle was funny, feisty, and sensitive at different points in the play. There was a beautiful moment when the lovers were reunited and the band played ‘For What It Is Worth’ by Buffalo Springfield while the lovers kissed before falling asleep on stage. One of my only criticisms is that I wasn’t a big fan of the multiroling in the play. Alex Wilcox played both Tybalt and Paris, and Hansell reemerged on stage almost immediately as another role after dying as Mercutio. I found that this took away slightly from the sadness of Tybalt and Mercutio’s deaths.
Several key moments during the play are highlighted by a lack of music and simple lighting with just two actors alone on stage. When the Friar tells Romeo about his banishment, she is positioned in the shadows sitting in the corner of the audience. On the other side of the stage, the Nurse kneels and Juliet leans against a pillar covered in fairy lights. This created a beautiful picture on stage during such an emotionally charged scene. Without a doubt, my favourite scene in the production was when the Nurse thinks she has discovered Juliet dead on stage with the band, who start playing ‘California Dreaming’ by the Mamas & the Papas. Capulet (Craig-Dunn) enters and crouches down on the ground, clutching Juliet’s hand and crying. Craig-Dunn demonstrates that he can play an emotional, devastated father, in addition to the frightening, aggressive man we saw earlier in the play. The scene ends with Forbes beautifully singing A capella. The sound of the pouring rain coming down on the roof seemed to add perfectly to the atmosphere.