Strong acting saves Bard’s Romeo and Juliet
Review by Olivia Morgan
Bard on the Beach’s Romeo & Juliet features some of Vancouver’s best actors doing fine and complex work; unfortunately, it’s happening in spite directorial choices.
Production at loss of concept
Director Kim Collier is known for delivering material that is strong on concept, and if the material is classical, it is sure to be turned on its ear. Romeo & Juliet checks neither of these boxes.
Collier’s reimagining of Hamlet a few years ago at Bard was anything but traditional, so it’s a shock to see the cast enter classically dressed. Nancy Bryant’s design does add some anachronistic modern flourishes to many of the costumes, such as headphones for the Friar to blare rock music through and a camouflage ball-cap for one of the masquerade costumes. Unfortunately, they appear too infrequent and uneven to be called a cohesive concept.
The set, made up of large stark metallic pieces that the cast move about the stage also doesn’t quite hit the mark. It’s a bold choice but odd for a love story, no matter how tragic it may be. The balcony scene during which Romeo and Juliet exchange vows of love is frankly terrifying, as it seems entirely possible that Juliet will fall. During the show’s first matinee of the season, actress Hailey Gillis misjudged how high to reach for the banister while crouched and leaning down, and it was all too clear that this set piece is objectively dangerous.
Classical concept also means the cast is engaged in swordplay and the fights in this production are disastrous. Everyone holding a sword looks out of their depth, some so much so that it seems they may have been handed a sword for the first time that very day. The fist fights are no better as actors swing so wide it’s impossible to buy into a sense of real danger.
Cast delivers strong performances
That said, there is wonderful acting in this production. Hailey Gillis’ Juliet and Andrew Chown’s Romeo are lovely, young and convey love throughout the story. They inhabit the awkwardness inherent in young romance; Chown in particular mines the humour in Romeo’s lovesickness for all its worth. Off the top of the show, Gillis has been directed to enter trailing three red balloons behind her and running about the stage – behavior fitting for an eight-year-old, but off-putting in a character that is just shy of 14. Luckily, later in the piece she is allowed more stillness and Juliet’s depth begins to shine through.
“McNee is spectacluar”
Ben Elliott’s Benvolio is rich and fun and Andrew McNee is spectacular as Mercutio. McNee brings the warmth and brashness of a misguided older cousin- type figure, walking the line between fun and annoying. When he dies his attitude is cavalierly heartbreaking; unfortunately, the director’s staging blocks McNee’s work from most of the audience.
Jennifer Lines is an odd choice for the Nurse; she seems nobler than both Lord and Lady Capulet, but she has an excellent grasp of the text and her heart is on her sleeve throughout.
As the usually unmemorable servant Peter, Andrew Cownden is hilarious every time he walks on stage. And Scott Bellis makes a perfect Friar Lawrence, invoking a cool-hippy-uncle vibe throughout.
“Some beautiful moments”
Collier does build some beautiful moments. The play’s prologue is delivered by Bard’s Artistic Director Christopher Gaze as an addendum to the pre-show donor acknowledgements and cellphone advisory speech. It’s the most conceptual moment in the show, and it works.
Romeo and Juliet’s wedding is also beautiful. Simple and pure, the audience feels like they’re in on a secret; the two lovers appear like such kids it’s impossible not to ache for the tragedy the audience knows is coming.
However, this scene is followed immediately by one of the most awkward moments in the show; a montage of the couple post-wedding, cuddling and running about the stage and then almost leaving and coming back. Many members of the audience thought the act was over and were getting up out of their seats just as Romeo and Juliet reenter for a final kiss.
Another awkward, muddled ending is repeated at the end of the show. A solid and beautiful acting moment between the reconciled Montague and Capulet parents is watered down by an odd almost-exit of the entire cast through the theatre aisles, followed by a completely over-the-top group hug centre stage.
The Bottom Line
Romeo and Juliet is a mixed bag, but the acting is great and deserves sold-out houses throughout the summer. However, directorially, this production is a bit of a mess and leaves the actors’ outstanding work largely unsupported.
Romeo and Juliet
Bard on the Beach, Vanier Park
To September 23
in repertory with The Merry Wives of WindsorPurchase tickets
DOWNLOAD 2016 GUIDE HERE
BARD ON THE BEACH 2016 SEASON
Romeo and Juliet
Bard on the Beach
Cast: Scott Bellis, Andrew Chown, Andrew Cownden, Daniel Doheny, Victor Dolhai, Ben Elliott, Hailey Gillis, Amber Lewis, Jennifer Lines, Anton Lipovetsky, David Marr, Andrew McNee, Shaker Paleja, Dawn Petten, Tom Pickett, Ashley Wright
Production: Kim Collier – Director, Nancy Bryant – Costume Designer, Pam Johnson – Scenery Designer, Gerald King – Lighting Designer, Alison Matthews – Head Voice & Text Coach, Valerie Easton – Choreographer, David McCormick – Fight Director, Stephen Courtenay – Production Stage Manager, Kelly Barker – Assistant Stage Manager, Elizabeth Wellwood – Apprentice Stage Manager, Matthew Thomas Walker – Directing Apprentice, Bronwyn Carradine – Set Design Apprentice,