A personal journal entry by Jessica Bosnell inspired by Robertson Davies’ Theatre Diaries

FRI: JUNE 9:

To Stratford Festival Theatre for matinee of Romeo and Juliet with K. and my mother and father to celebrate my graduation. Sat in the front row—Aisle 1, seats 61-64. The dark wood used for the “thrust stage” and balcony was not what I had expected—I was expecting the usual grey castle wall and balcony—but this was subtle and worked well, even for all the different scenes. You had the opportunity to use your imagination, which is a rare thing these days. The costumes, I instantly noticed, were beautifully done and modern. —A bit dark for my taste; lots of black leather. Could have used dashes of colour—only Mercutio and Paris had dashes of red. Romeo’s costume never changed, which I thought odd, but I suppose it would be difficult to get out of sweaty leather pants in a hurry, wouldn’t it? The action was very lively—sword fights executed well. —After a brawl, you could distinctly hear everyone breathing heavily after running around the stage, and the smell of men’s cologne lingered in the air. The best part about sitting so close was seeing how far the spit could fly! The lights seemed to make the spit glow like fairy dust and a mist filled the air during heated arguments. Romeo was by far the winner of every spitting duel. I always wondered why the actors stood so far apart on the stage—and now I know why.

Romeo, played by Antoine Yared, did indulge in some rather feminine hand gestures and it took several scenes before his speech came out smoothly and powerfully. (Whenever I think of Romeo, I picture Leonardo DiCaprio—I just can’t help myself.) Paris, played by Gordon Patrick White, seemed much too old—grey hair! And very short. I pictured him as middle-aged, tall, dark and handsome – “a good match” for Juliet. But this older Paris makes the idea of Juliet marrying him more revolting—which may have been the intention.

Juliet, played by Sara Farb, wore a beautiful Cinderella-like soft, blue gown which I adored, but it was paired with white slippers that seemed to have heels and thumped quite loudly when she ran down the stairs from the balcony. But her voice was soft and angelic during the “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo” scene.

Mercutio, played by Evan Buliung, at one point gestures to his crotch as he says the word “tangled”—a bit crude considering there were children in the audience, but all in good fun. Buliung did a wonderful job of making us laugh by raising and lowering his voice—adding emphasis where we might not have expected it and dancing around the stage. He was the comic relief from the seriousness of the play. Especially his “quivering thigh” speech—where he really did make his thighs quiver—possibly even better than Beyoncé.

The best scene by far was the balcony scene—very well executed and rehearsed by both Romeo and Juliet and there was a great connection between them. Their timing was impeccable. I sat riveted.

The scene changes were executed using candelabras and orbs of light carried by four ladies. Never seen this technique before but thought it was perfect.

There was very little background music, only birds chirping and some foreboding music near the end—I thought there would be much more and had warned my parents that it might be very loud. Loved the intimate setting and the semi-circle stage. All the actors worked the stage very well, and I could see everything—except the final kisses. I almost stood up to get a better view—but decided that I didn’t want to block anyone’s view and/or embarrass my family. I really wanted to see that kiss! But they were laying flat at the very end of the stage, and as they leaned over to kiss (first Romeo, and then Juliet) their arms blocked the view. What a pity.

I was half expecting some idiot to yell, “Yeah, go Romeo! Kiss her!” And ruin the sad moment created by their impending deaths…, but everyone respected the quiet of the scene. I guess “those people” don’t attend plays?

I found that the stirring of the poison by Romeo in the final scene slowed down the pace and seemed to drag on much longer than it needed to. Not that I wanted him to die faster—but it just seemed odd that he would need to prep it so. The whole idea of the poison was that it be quick.

But all in all, it was well worth the trip to Stratford. —I wonder what Robertson Davies would have thought? The neat part is that, because of the Davies’ Digital Diaries Project, readers will be able to see what he thought of every production of Romeo and Juliet he ever attended, and I’m certain he saw many over the years. Exciting, isn’t it? Which actor played the best Romeo, and which actress the best Juliet, I wonder?

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