Saturday, 5 April 2014

Before Juliet @ 3MT, 18.03.14

Romeo & Juliet are the premier romantic paring in English Literature; we all know the story of the star-crossed lovers. But what about Rosaline, the girl who Romeo once romanced? It is her tale that the Manchester Shakespeare Company tell in Before Juliet, a modern day imagining of a love that was not quite enough.

The concept is a strong one, adding new narrative to a scenario we are all familiar with, and bringing it forward to the present day. In this imagining Rosaline is living with her mother and family friend Capulet, who is like a father to her. The family business – a car dealership – is thriving, emotional bonds are strong and life is going along just fine. Rosaline has her Romeo who, while a touch callous, will surely be won around to her affections. Nothing can go wrong...until Rosaline’s exotic cousin Juliet, the estranged daughter of Capulet, arrives in town...and then everything does.

Unfortunately it is at this point that the production loses its way. Rather than exploring one or two elements of the idea Before Juliet takes all roads at once, leading to an overly long and unfocussed effort. Each scene in a play should serve a purpose but this was not the case here, with dozens of changes creating a strobe-like effect of fractured fragments rather than a full story. Some characters, such as Rosaline’s demon, felt unnecessary and could have been cut. The main problem was that the production lasted almost 3 hours including intermission. This is simply too much for fringe, which is at its best when used as a trying ground for shorter pieces that can perhaps be expanded upon elsewhere.

There were positives: some of the dialogue was very funny, and the relationship between Romeo and his brother is one that worked well – it could have made for a good 10-15 minute piece in itself. The acting performances were about as strong as they could be given the sheer scope of the play, which must have put serious strains upon the cast.

Before Juliet has a kernel of something very interesting at its core: there is a good play here waiting to get out. With any luck writers Hannah Ellis and John Topliff will sit down, give it a good edit, and come back with a leaner version that does the idea justice.

Words: Andrew Anderson

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