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Juliet and Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage

Juliet and Romeo by LOST DOG - photo by Jane Hobson
Juliet and Romeo by LOST DOG – photo by Jane Hobson

It’s entirely possible to follow proceedings in Juliet and Romeo – A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage irrespective of one’s familiarity with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. For one thing, Juliet (Solène Weinachter) pulls out a Wordsworth Classics edition of the late sixteenth-century play. Let’s just say this is Act V Scene III substantially reworked. In fact, that concept should really be extended to the whole play, with references to off-stage characters recognisable to those who have encountered the tragedy play before. Those who haven’t, as I say, are not left behind. This is a remarkably accessible retelling and reimagining of a well-known tale, with one gigantic alteration.

This adaptation considers what might have happened to these two characters if Friar Lawrence’s plan (detailed in Act IV Scene I) had worked. In an introduction, the couple introduce themselves to the audience and explain what’s about to happen – rather like a prologue. The show starts gently and politely, with an exchange of pleasantries, but even in the opening minutes, Romeo (Ben Duke) has differences of opinion with his wife that verge on pushing her buttons. An underlying sarcasm permeates the opening dialogue, which never fully dissipates before reaching full throttle in a late showdown, a spoken word equivalent of musical theatre’s ‘eleven o’clock number’. It even extends to the title – neither character is old enough to give advice on ‘long life’, and the marriage, though stable, is far from ‘happy’.

The story is not wholly in chronological order, as scenes are set up as ‘memories’ or flashbacks, in such a way that previous events are reconstructed and acted out on stage as the character remembers them. Both members of this relationship turn out to be unreliable narrators, though at least they stand their ground and stick to their version of what they believe to be the truth. The dialogue may be a little uncomfortably stilted from time to time but these convincing performances capture the awkwardness of the situation more than adequately. This Romeo, who was never wholly comfortable with Shakespeare’s plotline, is one of those people who struggles to show raw emotions.

There’s a fair amount of movement going on – if feelings cannot be spoken, they can at least, thankfully, be expressed through song and/or dance. The variety of songs featured in the show is quite eclectic, which might have made for a disjointed and jarring production, but this selection works well. The amount of movement also varies: there’s strength in Juliet standing her ground during ‘Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death’ (a song I must admit I hadn’t come across before), and a questionable metaphor in the physical struggle Romeo undertakes to pick up and carry Juliet whilst dancing a little later. That dancing sequence, like one or two others, may not be particularly pretty to look at, but they are deceptively well-executed and captured the essence of an aspect of the storyline quite brilliantly.

The level of engagement eases off towards the end of the performance – and the very end is thus a tad anticlimactic, even if considerably more positive than Shakespeare’s version of the story. Still, this insightful and humorous production is an incredibly believable alternative narrative to a famous story.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Lost Dog’s new show reveals the real story of Romeo and Juliet.
They didn’t die in a tragic misunderstanding but instead grew up and lived happily ever after.
Well, at least they lived.

Now they’re 40ish, at least one of them is in the grips of a midlife crisis, they feel constantly mocked by their teenage selves and haunted by the pressures of being the poster couple for romantic love.

They have decided to confront their current struggles by putting on a performance – about themselves. Their therapist told them it was a terrible idea.

With Lost Dog’s blend of dance theatre and comedy this humorous and heartfelt show takes on our cultural obsession with youth and our inevitable issues with longevity.

Conceived by Ben Duke
Devised & performed by Ben Duke & Solène Weinachter
Artistic collaborator: Raquel Meseguer
Light design: Jackie Shemesh
Set and costume design: James Perkins
Producers: Tessa Howell & Emily Gorrod-Smith
Technician: Dave Sherman

With thanks to: Will Duke, Pippa Duke, Jo Boorman, Laughton Lodge, Tin Shed Scenery; The Lost Dog Board: Bob Lockyer, Emily Gray, Hilary Lane, Jim de Zoete; The dedicated teams at Ovalhouse, Lancaster Arts, Battersea
Arts Centre and The Place.

Juliet and Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage
14th- 24th February 2018 at Battersea Arts Centre
27th February – 3rd March 2018 at The Place
Running Time: approx. 75 minutes
https://www.bac.org.uk/

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