Friday, 25 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Juliet And Romeo - Thimblemill Library, Smethwick. Birmingham.

We all know what happened to Romeo and Juliet, don’t we? Romeo, believing the love of his life to be dead, kills himself in her burial vault; Juliet, having too successfully faked her own death, revives to find her beloved dead beside her and in her grief takes her own life. That is Shakespeare’s version, but, as we learn in Lost Dog’s retelling of the story, it didn’t quite happen that way.

We meet Juliet (Solène Weinachter) and Romeo (Ben Duke) some 20 years into their relationship. The fact that they are undergoing couples therapy tells us everything we need to know about the state of their marriage. Juliet is keen to talk, Romeo less so – he is clearly struggling to connect with his emotions at first, not to mention embarrassed by his wife’s references to their “troubles in the bedroom”.

As part of their therapy, Juliet and Romeo re-enact scenes from their life in dance, and herein lies a great deal of the charm and genius in the piece. Their memories of key events differ, quite hilariously so on occasion. Which song was playing when they first met? Romeo’s memory has him tentatively crossing the floor to The Beatles’ “I Want You” whilst in Juliet’s he glides across the floor to Cat Power’s “Wild Is The Wind”.

On remembering finding Juliet apparently dead, Romeo seems to have been more affected by the cold draughts in the tomb than at the tragedy itself – for which he is sharply rebuked: “you find the love of your life dead and all you feel is cold?”.

Recalling their encounter with the great writer who immortalised them, we learn that Shakespeare plied the couple with whisky, inducing Romeo to “overshare”; whilst Juliet is proud of being portrayed as exemplifying the ideal of true love, Romeo appears to find it all rather naff (“I didn’t say all those long words, I don’t even know what half of them mean!”).

As the play moves on, we see distinct character arcs developing. Romeo’s response to his wife’s miscarriage is beautiful (and brought a tear to the eye of this reviewer) as he tenderly leads her in a dance to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – he is clearly reconnecting with his feelings for her. Juliet’s arc is definitely heading downwards: clearly depressed following the birth of Sophie she ends up having a complete meltdown at the frustrations of what she sees as a mundane existence far from the characterisation afforded her by Shakespeare. She seems to wish for the noble death ascribed to her by the Bard.

Having spent 75 minutes following them through joy, sorrow, passion and wretchedness, we find ourselves wishing the couple a happy ending. It isn’t to be.

The Thimblemill Library – a Grade II Listed building in the Streamlined Moderne style popular in the late 1930s – is the very definition of an “intimate venue”, seating around 50 people with the front row less than a metre and a half from the performers. In the impromptu Q&A session afterwards we learned that the performers had had to make some adjustments to the dance routines to enable them to fit within a much smaller stage than they were used to. That art of this calibre (“Juliet & Romeo” was commissioned originally by the Battersea Art Centre) is performed here is thanks to the efforts of the Library, and to those of Black Country Touring which delivers a comprehensive programme of live events and film screenings in libraries, churches and other community spaces in the area all year round.

Reviewer - Ian Simpson
on - 24/10/19

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