At the risk of sounding like an overly enthusiastic English teacher, the genius of Shakespeare lies in his language. Allow me to elaborate on this ridiculously obvious statement. While William might have pinched plotlines from the Italians and the ancients, he alone can take claim for his mastery over words. It’s the poetry of his language as well as his profound insights into the human soul that fuel his continuing popularity.
Sadly the Globe’s latest production of Romeo and Juliet seems to have forgotten that. The pounding of dubstep heard as the curtain drew up suggested that this would not be a traditional performance. But within the first ten minutes it was evident that it lay beyond redemption. The quarrel between Abram and Sampson (think thumb biting) was butchered by the inexplicable emergence of a pseudo-WWE wrestler prancing on stage, accompanied by slut-dropping wenches, music blaring over the hideous carnage. While adding shock-value it added little else to the drama. The rest of the play was mutilated with similar scenes, obviously all intended to make this ‘stuffy’ work fun and relatable (though I doubt many people can claim to experience invasive wrestlers or their parents descending from the ceiling bellowing YMCA as regular occurrences). Shrieking at one another, you’d think that the actors were throwing a tantrum after learning their bizarre and incomprehensible lines. The problem with relying on shouting, rave music and blinding strobe lights though is that the script itself becomes overwhelmed. Can you really appreciate ‘this bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, may prove a beauteous flower when next we meet’ while it’s spat out in disgust? The dialogue feels like an elderly uncle invited to a 21st, hanging around awkwardly while the young revellers get drunk. The prologue itself requests that we ‘with patient ears attend’, but that becomes difficult when the performance resembles a cross between a Skrillex concert and uninspired GCSE art project.
Let me just make clear that I’m all for reinventing the Bard. If performances of his work were always done be-ruffed, with actors garbed in curtainesque skirts or male tights, interest would evaporate eventually. But woe on the director who forgets the essence of Shakespeare: his words. If a production seeks to attract a social media addicted, short-attention span audience through spectacle and novelty then the dialogue will have to be thrown under the bus. And if a director regards the play as a musty relic, in desperate need of glitter and sparkles (maybe a vajazzling too), then they should best leave Shakespeare alone. Enough ink has already been spilt regarding the Globe’s controversial appointment of artistic director Emma Rice without me adding to it, though I do wonder why someone who has cheerfully admitted that reading Shakespeare sends her to sleep would be selected in the first place? I can confidently say though that unless he plans on staging a Village People revival, I will be avoiding any future productions by director Daniel Kramer.
I was sad leaving the Globe that day. Watching this travesty was a bit like witnessing the desecration of a family member’s grave. I’ve always had Romeo and Juliet in my life, whether forced down my throat at school or admired once an adult. So to witness this cavalier treatment was nothing less than depressing. As nurse says in Act IV, it was a ‘most lamentable day’.