By Andrew Smith Arts Contributor
After a decade without Shakespeare at the Neptune Theatre, this season begins with Romeo and Juliet, the classic tale of doomed, young love. It opened at the Neptune on Sept. 18 and will run until Oct. 17.
“In this production we have simplicity in the language,” says director George Pothitos. “Many of the themes addressed—parental authority, defiance, love and lust—are struggles still faced by the youth of today. Teenagers haven’t changed all that much since Shakespeare’s era. We tried to make those issues accessible to a modern audience.”
From the opening sequence, it is clear that this manifestation of the Renaissance favourite is not difficult to follow. It has a fast pace marked by tolling bells, a script dotted with bawdy humour, and an easy chemistry between leading man Derek Moran and his female counterpart Sarah English.
For Moran, a Toronto native, it was more important to allow his performance of the character to develop organically than it was to try and force a fresh interpretation. “I try to remain flexible through rehearsals and allow my character to develop that way,” says Moran. “The point of theatre is to affect someone. It is always about your partner.”
“It is more of a priority to be in the moment, responding to the situation as it unfolds than it is to worry about your portrayal. I try to make it so that my natural responses happen to be those of the script.”
English, a Dalhousie acting program graduate and former Neptune Theatre instructor, has no issue playing a character of such a young age. “Chemistry is chemistry, regardless of age,” she says. “Both Romeo and Juliet speak the same language, and they feel like outcasts among their circles. Juliet has overbearing parents deciding her future for her, and Romeo is constantly teased by his friends. And who hasn’t at some point felt like an outsider?”
One of the most striking elements of Romeo and Juliet is the blood feud between the Montagues and Capulets, typified by the skirmishes and duels throughout. Capturing the volatility of that feud was important to Pothitos, and it was a priority to keep the conflicts authentic.
“All of the fights for this production have been choreographed to make sure they are accurate, exciting and, above all, safe,” says Pothitos. “We worked very hard from opening rehearsal to get the fight scenes as smooth and entertaining as possible, while still remaining true to the styles of the period.”
“Shakespeare’s audience craved violence, and he fulfilled the need by adding many action packed scenes. In all of the roles I sought people who could handle the language well, but for the fighting parts it was essential that the actors be comfortable with sword work. Sword play is a big part of this production.”
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most produced plays worldwide. It has been updated and transformed countless times to keep it available to a changing audience. While Pothitos’s version remains true to the traditional form, the frenzied pace and smooth script selections keep it unique. One really gets a sense watching this rendition that the characters are acting on instinct. They don’t have the luxury of options.
“Time plays a very important role in the language and plot of the play,” says Pothitos. “Remember, the whole thing takes place in only four days. There are all these opposing forces operating in ignorance of each other, and the characters are forced to respond instantly to adverse situations. They don’t have time to stop and think.”
Neptune has many mechanisms in place to keep theatre affordable for students. They have a pay-what-you-can night before the opening of all their plays, a 20 per cent student discount on all regularly priced tickets, and they sell rush seats on most nights for the affordable price of $15 for non-musicals and $20 for musicals. For the more enthusiastic, there is a ‘flex five pack’ available that allows you to attend any five of their nine productions for just $95. That’s a total savings of $130 from the non-student rate. Check out their website (neptunetheatre.com) or call the box office at (902) 429-7070 for more information.