We returned to Stratford earlier this month, and while in town we caught another performance of Romeo and Juliet. And I’m happy to report that, as expected, the production is maturing very nicely. It’s still recognizably the same show, but everyone is more relaxed, and as a consequence their feelings play far more effectively.
Two changes were particularly noticeable. First, the chemistry between Daniel Briere’s Romeo and Sara Topham’s Juliet has improved markedly. This is not the first time that I’ve seen a Romeo and Juliet who don’t seem to connect on opening night, but whose relationship warms and deepens over the course of the run. My first reaction is that this pattern says something negative about the plausibility of the passion to which the play itself attests, but upon reflection I wonder whether it doesn’t instead point to a problem with casting veteran actors, even young ones, as the title characters. These are supposed to be kids, after all, but we almost never see teenagers playing them on stage. Is it possible that recapturing that particular hormonal quality is a tall order for people in their thirties or forties, particularly with the added pressure of opening night bearing down on your performance? I don’t know. I do know that I haven’t noticed anything similar on opening nights between Hamlet and Ophelia, and Macbeth and Lady M., or the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It. It’s something about R&J.
Second, I had the wonderful luck to see the understudy, Gabrielle Jones, go on as the Nurse, and she was simply fabulous. Understudies frequently bring a special energy to their roles, but this was more; she really brought out the deep and affectionate laughter in the Nurse, which makes her betrayal of Juliet in her hour of greatest need all the more painful. I had a similar experience re-seeing Fiddler on the Roof, with Barbara Fulton stepping in as a truly golden Golda; she had a beautiful prickly chemistry with Scott Wentworth’s Tevye that wasn’t entirely in evidence the first time I saw it. Bottom line: don’t give in to reflexive disappointment when you hear an understudy is going on. You might be in for an extraordinary treat.