On opening night Saturday, the party started outside.
It actually started in the theatre about 15 minutes prior as the audience made their way through Andy Warhol's Factory to their seats on either side of the dance floor. The actors were already in full swing by the time the guests arrived, decked out in shimmery period costumes, the room awash in silver and black--a thoroughly glitzed up industrial look--60s hits blaring from the turntable in the corner, while Andy Warhol, as an ingenious re-imagining of Prince Escalus, looked on in approval. With martini glasses in hand, the Montagues and Capulets effusively welcomed the guests to the party--until the fire alarm went off.
You would have thought it was all part of the show, some kind of immersive theatre, and as it turns out a parking lot is as good a theatre as any: half of the faux-guests waited around with the real ones in their furs, pearls, and high heels, taking drags of their fake cigarettes while the other half gallivanted about in complete character.
The staff handled the situation with poise and a good dose of humour, but in the end, no one seemed all that put out about having to wait outside for 20 minutes, and there was never a dip in the atmosphere. In fact, it was almost heightened by the unexpected hiccup; a humorous prelude to a night of good fun, making it clear this wasn’t going to be a standard or old-fashioned presentation of Shakespeare’s work.
While I can’t promise that the play will have any other unplanned evacuations during the rest of the run, what I can attest to is the palpable enthusiasm of all of the actors and staff involved. The whole building was a buzz of excitement, undoubtedly in celebration of the opening of Studio 58’s 50th season, though there was an undeniable sense of eagerness from the students themselves.
Despite the tragic premise, the performance engendered a sense of optimism and sincerity not always present in play often scoffed at for its ridiculous notions of love. Studio 58’s interpretation brought out all the best parts of the story, including its humour and a delightful level of earnestness.
I do stress the term interpretation though, as the play was certainly condensed and much of the language of the original work was replaced with shorter speeches and sometimes even musical numbers. While I did miss some of my favourite lines (Romeo and Juliet’s speech upon first meeting in particular), the majority of the play’s most recognizable lines were kept in. Where lines were cut, it was done judiciously, and allowed what remained of the original language to stand out. The changes were refreshing and I imagine only the strictest purists could take issue with the update.
The swapping of Romeo’s gender was perhaps the least bold of the changes, though perhaps it only felt that way because it worked so well. Romeo is exceedingly more likeable as played by Camille Legg than he ever was as a lovesick boy. The change added much needed motivation to make Romeo’s flip-flopping on matters of love transform from ridiculous to heartbreakingly sincere. Juliet’s decision too, to end her life, becomes even more profound in light of her parents forcing her to wed a man when she loves a woman instead.
While Legg’s Romeo and Adelleh Furseth‘s Juliet were both beautiful and beyond convincing, it was Conor Stinson-O’Gorman’s performance of Mercutio that stole the show for me. No performance of Romeo + Juliet is complete without a proper Queen Mab speech, and he delivered it beyond my expectations.
Romeo + Juliet runs at Langara College until October 18. More information about the play and the rest of Studio 58’s anniversary season can be found here.