Brush up your Shakespeare by Ann Davies

Forget revision, intense study (I remember those days well) Forget the “clipped” British film version or the American theme portrayed on Venice Beach – (seemed strange with those costumes and a “Californian Dreaming” background, unless of course, you are an ardent fan of Leonardo DiCaprio). This was a thoughtful retelling of Shakespeare’s tragic play “Romeo and Juliet” directed by Matthew J. Bool and skilfully performed by Avant Cymru.

Matthew J. Bool, Director

The Amphitheatre at Penrhys – built over 20 years ago as a Project by world wide students – became the 21st Century Globe Theatre as the area sparkled like a magnificent gem linking an intricate necklace from its vantage point on high above the two Rhondda Valleys

There was a murmur of anticipation hanging in the air; we were all seated on the amphitheatre stone steps, almost like elephants sitting on top of lollipop sticks. Sunhats, sun cream, drinks and cushions were necessities. Bird song and traffic could be heard in the far distance, then silence as we were all transported to our very own Verona high in the mountains of the county of Glamorganshire. Guitar music and song emanated from a trio of cast members as the Chorus/Nurse introduced us to the famous story.

The story is as of old, boy meets girl, they fall instantly in love but they are from opposite sides in an age old vendetta between the two families. They find themselves as star crossed lovers, marry secretly, Juliet discovers that her parents have arranged a marriage. There are fights and Romeo’s friend Mercutio is killed by Tybalt (who through the couple’s marriage is now a kinsman of Romeo). Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished from Verona.

A desperate plan is needed; Friar Laurence provides Juliet with an herbal draught which will induce a “deathly” sleep. He has promised to notify Romeo of this scheme. Juliet will awake and be reunited with Romeo and all will be well. Alas the message goes undelivered. Romeo, fearing the worst buys a phial of poison which he imbibes on finding Juliet in the Capulet Family Vault. Juliet wakes to find her beloved dead, a last kiss and using Romeo’s dagger she kills herself. The families are reunited in their sorrow.

Freyja Duggan as Benvolio was like a happy sprite, full of mischief and mayhem. Matthew J. Bool as Mercutio was like a supercharged Jack in the box, in turn volatile, serious and sensitive to the varying moods Romeo was in. As friends of Romeo, they try to lift his spirits believing that he is not in love with his present amour, Rosaline, just besotted. On a whim Romeo decides to gate-crash the Capulet Family Masked Ball thus lighting the touch paper in this conflict. Douglas Guy plays the romantic Romeo who, on meeting Juliet, played by Gabrielle Williams, believing her to be pure, dreamlike with her beautiful hair flowing like a waterfall, he loses all senses; their combined emotions wobble like a blancmange in an earthquake. There is no denying the ignition of passion, they do not realise how the situation will implode – they only see each other.

Jamie Berry, who plays Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, is steadfast and strong in his role pursuing the family feud. Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt, as a result of which Tybalt mortally wounds Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Romeo ends up killing Tybalt for which he is sentenced to banishment from Verona. Romeo seeks the counsel of his mentor, Friar Lawrence played by Eleri Bowden who is busy as a bee reporting everything via an IPad. A secret marriage ceremony is performed little realising that an arranged marriage has been organised by Juliet’s parents to Paris, a cousin of the Prince of Verona. Juliet is in worse despair as Friar Laurence comes up with the desperate plan to fake her death.

Juliet’s Nurse, played by Menna Sian Rogers is a delight; a Valleys Mam/a “Bopa” (neighbour, not related but still an Aunt that would look out or after the children) a knot of gossip, almost supplying a comedic wordplay to the tragedy as it unfolds.

The act is set, Juliet is found presumed dead the following morning; taken to the Capulet Vault to lie in state. The uncompromising Lord Capulet, played by Shane Anderson and the fair Lady Capulet played by Rachel Pedley crumble in their anguish. Romeo, learning of Juliet’s “demise” buys himself a phial of poison for his life is nothing without her, he comes to the Vault closely followed by Paris, played by Jack Wyn White, they cannot console each other, the stakes are too high, there is a fight and Romeo kills Paris. In his grief, Romeo imbibes the poison and lies down beside Juliet.  Juliet awakes to find her beloved dead; her final act is to kiss Romeo and uses his dagger to kill herself.

It was a wordy and worthy adaption of the play. We have all grown up in the time of HRH Elizabeth II with social media fuelling the age of selfies and such emoji’s making their impact on lives.

This was what it would have been like in the reign of Elizabeth I, a play performed in the round, people eating conversing as the story enfolds. To think of it as a blank page, like a story book awaiting a tale to tell. It brought Shakespeare to life and we were all part of it. The staged fights were expertly choreographed by Jamie Berry – and when he was mortally wounded we wondered what happened to him as he disappeared into the “other valley”. We were concerned about the actors playing the main roles as they expired hoping that the sun wouldn’t cause more harm to their fatality!

We were part of it all, as a scene that has been repeated over the years with barriers such as the Berlin Wall separating East from West, the Gaza Strip. Love stories amidst the differences of creed, colour and religion.

Small sadnesses, great tragedies link us all in love. Never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo

“No legacy is as rich as honesty” – Shakespeare.

Critic Ann Davies with Director Matthew J. Bool.
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