Romeo and Juliet
A controversial new version of Shakespeare’s classic
This article is from 2007.
‘Maybe Romeo and Juliet was such an old warhorse we needed to put a bomb under it.’ It’s fighting talk to some, but it’s the kind of statement you’d let through from Peter Meineck, co-founder and joint artistic director of Aquila, one of the USA’s most acclaimed, if controversial, classical theatre companies.
Aquila’s latest foray into the American heartlands looks like making an auspicious Fringe debut. The company, who range widely in age, nationality and gender ask the audience to draw lots as to which parts in the piece they play. While conceding that it sounds like a gimmick, Meineck maintains that it serves to expose elements of the play that the usual pair of young star-crossed lovers wouldn’t.
‘This play has nothing to do with love; it’s more about hate,’ Meineck explains. ‘These young people don’t speak like 14-year-olds; people in old folks homes could go through the same thing. So I had this workshop to see what would happen if I changed the roles around.’
The effect isn’t just seeing actors camping or mugging to comic effect, but rather, Meineck assures me, a more profound exposure of both actor and text to the audience. But this approach hasn’t been without its problems. ‘On tour we played this arts centre in Nebraska, and I was there. They cast two fellas as Romeo and Juliet, and during the show, actually very early on, about five people walked out. The next day I got a call from my agent: “What the hell happened in Nebraska? I heard about 500 people walked out.” These people go back to their churches and start a letter writing campaign, and I thought, this is great, because now it’s getting into the newspapers.
‘I started to wonder what they were angry about,’ Meineck says, his brows furrowing. ‘The thing is, if we’d cast a couple of guys as Romeo and Juliet and just took it on tour, they would probably just said, “Oh, just another bunch of arties from the city.” But the problem is, they’re putting their hands in the bag and choosing who plays Romeo and Juliet. So some of the venue managers on the road started to get really nervous about our coming. Several said: “If it turns out to be two fellas, I’ll get the sack”.’ (Steve Cramer)
Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 7–27 Aug (not 13, 20), 2.15pm, £13.50–£14.50 (£12.50–£13.50).