Venue: St. Olave’s Church
Drama. Passion. Strife. Romeo and Juliet, ‘the greatest love story ever told’, is arguably the most well-known of Shakespeare’s plays and hence a festival in his name would be incomplete without a performance. The Flanagan Collective, known for their alternative approach to theatre, took on this challenge to produce an all-female, musical, fun-filled production brimming with energy. The setting was equally unusual and added to the tone of the piece: set in St. Olaves Church the cast fully immersed themselves in the set and utilized many aspects of the space (aisle, front, back, sides and even climbed amongst the audience!) As I settled into my seat the idea of a feminine love-story set in a church did spark a controversial question in my mind, but it seemed irrelevant against the tone of the production; the only comment I would make on this particular creative choice was that, at moments, the romance did seem to descend into girlish shrieking, which detracted from the deeper meaning of the tale.
The interpretation was certainly artistic and deviated away from the tragic elements of the traditional production to focus more closely on the whirl-wind love affair between two passionate individuals, taking place across only a number of days. The atmosphere was set immediately upon entry into the church as the cast danced around the assembling audience giving out party hats and invitations to the Capulet ball. It was incredibly welcoming yet also lulled you into a sense of unease as to what you were about to witness.
The audience participation continued into the performance as the cast literally acted around you, however it seemed at times like this production had tried to push the performance in too many different directions (inclusion of music, audience involvement, unusual acting space) and consequently it felt overall unstable and adrift. Moreover it seemed, at times, to forget the musical inclusion and there were long periods of Shakespearian speech where it seemed as though you were simply watching a traditional version.
The ensemble, comprised of six women all around student age, did carry off the roles very well. The number of roles demanded some multi-playing and clever-yet-subtle use of costume change was implemented to signify the change of character. The costume design was modern and fairly simple (the play did not seem to be set in a specific era), giving the performance a timeless feel. Most of the cast wore a base of black which they then decorated, depending on what the character or scene required of them. Worth particular mention was Emma Balantine’s version of Romeo as a high-spirited and passionate dreamer, although all of the cast performed well and vocally they all carried each other. Throughout the production, you really did get the sense that this was a well-bonded, in-tune company.