Romeo & Juliet rocks the Spoleto Festival

For three weeks the production of R&J I composed this year, produced by Shakespeare’s Globe and directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Tim Hoare, takes over at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. Few reviews worth sharing – go team!

Here she blows (from the Charleston City Paper):

R&J Spoleto w bass drum

Romeo and Juliet crackles with fun and menace, just as the Bard intended, and breathes new life into a classic, thanks to some deft technical work

By Paul Bowers



Brilliant acting and some well-placed anachronism bring out the best in a timeless tragedy.

The Shakespeare’s Globe production of Romeo and Juliet kicks off with a lusty, full-band shanty performed by the whole cast and cuts abruptly to the Capulets and Montagues brawling in the street with Abraham’s challenge to Sampson: “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”

The quick pacing rarely lets up for the rest of the play, helping to solve a dilemma faced by any company putting on one of the world’s most beloved tragedies: How do you keep things exciting when everyone in the audience knows how it will end?

Of course the play requires stellar acting to lend fresh life to a script that has been remixed, reinterpreted, and at times mangled half to death by centuries’ worth of pretenders — and the actors here are top-notch. But some of the most brilliant touches come from the behind-the-scenes artists: Composer Bill Barclay, Choreographer Siân Williams, Designer Andrew D. Edwards, and Costume Supervisor Sabrina Cuniberto.

Scene changes happen instantly, sometimes heralded by the sound of a chime from offstage or an actor throwing off a cape to take on a different role, and often the actors from one scene remain frozen onstage as the actors from the next walk around them. This leads to some striking moments in the beginning of the first act, before Romeo meets Juliet, when the two soon-to-be lovers sit beside each other on a bench without seeing one another.

The set is a two-tiered platform with the look of reclaimed wood. The costuming is minimalist, with the whole cast decked out in khakis and whites, the men nearly always bare-chested and showing off some delightfully anachronistic tattoos. A deft choice was putting Mercutio, Romeo’s flamboyant and hot-headed best friend, in a loud Hawaiian shirt (seriously).

While Samuel Valentine and Cassie Layton deliver commanding performances as the star-cross’d lovers, the real star of the first act is Steffan Donnelly as Mercutio. The role calls for devilish charm as Mercutio chides the love-struck Romeo, and Donnelly pulls it off with perfect comedic timing. In a play that’s become required reading for most high school students, Donnelly restores some of the bawdiness and fun that the Bard wove into the first act, whether he’s strutting around taunting Tybalt or playing up one of the numerous dick jokes that your English teacher probably failed to point out.

The first act builds inexorably to violence, and the final minutes take on a suddenly dark tone as Mercutio’s taunts bring out roaring menace and frightening physicality from Tybalt (Matt Doherty). Behind some impressive dual-swordplay, someone offstage starts beating a war drum, ramping up the intensity until Mercutio receives his fatal wound.

If the first half of the play belongs to Donnelly as Mercutio, the second belongs to Layton as Juliet. She spends the first half behaving convincingly as a lovestruck 14-year-old, but in the second, with blood now spilled and Romeo facing banishment, she takes on a frightening resolve to either live with her lover or die trying. Staggering around in Friar Laurence’s chamber with a dagger to her wrist, she is suddenly calm and deadly serious. The eerie effect is amplified by the musical accompaniment of clanging bells and unearthly sounds produced by the players in the wings.

If you came into this play pondering the age-old English essay question of love versus lust in Romeo and Juliet, you move past it in the second half. Juliet is in love, and Layton imbues that love with a cold fury at their families’ senseless feuding. “Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye,” Romeo declares to Juliet, “than 20 of their swords.” He says it in the first half of this production, but you believe it in the second.

This is Shakespeare as Shakespeare meant it: at turns ribald and religious, irreverent and deadly serious. Go see this play.


from The Post and Courier:

Two households, both alike in dignity, and both considerably condensed in size, take the stage at Spoleto Festival USA this week.

WHAT: “Romeo and Juliet”

WHEN: Tonight through June 7, various times

WHERE: Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St.

COST: Tickets start at $30

MORE INFO:, 843-579-3100

Shakespeare’s Globe has sent just eight of its traveling players to Charleston from London for the only American performances of its current, streamlined production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Beginning with a preview show tonight, the Globe will deploy its mobile set at the Dock Street Theatre until the final curtain falls on the festival on June 7.

This production of “Romeo and Juliet,” which Globe Associate Producer Tamsin Mehta calls one of the company’s “small-scale tours,” will bring a total of 11 people across the Atlantic. Aside from the eight actors, who will double, triple or even quadruple up on roles, the traveling contingent of the production is made up of just two stage managers and one wardrobe manager. The directors, Dominic Dromgoole and Tim Hoare, are not traveling with the group for all of its performances.

The scaled-down tour is a deliberate artistic choice meant to hearken back to the versatile traveling troupes of Elizabethan actors in Shakespeare’s own time, according to Mehta.

“Every actor plays way more than one part,” she said. ”They all play their own instruments with no amplified sound. They don’t have any lighting effects other than to recreate daylight. So the effect is meant to be (that) you’re witnessing a Shakespearean play done by a group of traveling players in as simple and imaginative a manner as they can.”

With such a lean cast, actors in the production are required to maximize their creative output. They serve in a number of capacities, as both cast and stage crew. Matt Doherty, who plays Romeo’s hot-tempered antagonist Tybalt, also plays the roles of Paris, Montague and Peter, and he performs music on the mandolin.

“If you leave the stage and you don’t have a scene for a little while, you’ll be helping backstage, you’ll be prepping for the next scene, you’ll be performing, maybe, on an instrument,” Doherty said.

And not just any instrument. Composer Bill Barclay had to write and arrange music for the tour based not only on what the actors could play but also on what they could easily take on the road. That means fewer large instruments like pianos and more handheld ones like mandolins, accordions and saxophones.

In addition to learning all of their parts, the actors need to determine the best way to interact with audiences at each new theater, Doherty said. To keep viewers engaged, he adapts his interpretation of some of Paris’ and Tybalt’s most memorable scenes according to the size of the venues.

“Some of the smaller, more intimate theaters really suit the smaller points of the plot, like the scene with Juliet in the tomb,” Doherty said. “If we’re in a much larger space, it suits the big street brawl at the beginning.”

Shakespeare’s Globe shipped its “Romeo and Juliet” set to Charleston weeks in advance, but the 11 company members were responsible for bringing whatever else they needed — costumes, props, musical instruments — in their luggage when they flew to South Carolina.

When Spoleto Festival General Director Nigel Redden first contacted Shakespeare’s Globe more than a year ago, the company had not yet chosen “Romeo and Juliet” as one of its summer touring productions, and Mehta could make no guarantees of which play would make the trip. But, Mehta said, the planning went as smoothly as could be expected, and that she looks forward to helping bring more productions to the festival in the future.

“It’s been pretty joyous, really,” Mehta said. “I don’t say that lightly.”

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