The Tabard Theatre in Chiswick, London, presents Joe Calarco's "Shakespeare's R&J", produced by Chapel Lane Theatre Company (based in Stratford-upon-Avon).
Imitating the only-male casts common to Shakespeare’s own day, the play is a clever adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set at an all-boys boarding school where four students act out the most famous love story in their dormitory, as relief from their daytime regime. Contained within a repressive setting of repetitive rote learning and martial marching, the four adolescents are inhibited by the typical traits of an all-boys boarding school: sexual frustration, frustrated masturbation, sextet conjugation.
Devoid of their own names, identity is complexly blurred by the boys’ escapism; as they take on the roles of the characters of fair Verona, fantasy and reality become obscured when the boys are literally given the lines with which to express their own feelings towards one another, until Amo Amas Amat infiltrates the dormitory as well as the classroom. The characters become caught up in the whirlwind of the freedom of the play-within-the-play as they take off their chokingly suppressive school ties and engage in a hauntingly accurate amount (lots) of deprived physical contact (a.k.a. boyish, common-room wrestling). The star-crossed lovers (the two schoolboys who play the eponymous couple) face their opposition in the form of homophobic jealousy rather than household rivalry - following the recent marriage legislation coinciding with worldwide Pride, the concept of the tragedy could seem antediluvian but reminds the audience of the lengths we still have to go for equal rights.
Even though it resembles coming-of-age films such as ‘The History Boys’ and ‘Dead Poets Society’, in its own right the play manages to refresh and renew a story that has been repeated more than its fair share, in a way that feels natural and unforced by both the actors and the playwright. Shakespeare’s words are seamlessly used in this modern setting resulting in lines such as ‘Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books / But love from love, toward school with heavy looks’ being ingeniously given a revived and significant meaning. Calarco’s script is also sprinkled with other Shakespearian gems - what’s a love story without Sonnet 18? – and moments of dramatic silence that are carried by the talent of the actors.
Brilliantly acted by all four cast members and tightly directed by Christopher Harvey, the humble (only 96 seats) performance is intimate, engaging and touching and worthy of the initial success that drove it, like Shakespeare himself, from Stratford-upon-Avon to London.
‘Shakespeare’s R&J’ runs until 8th August and tickets can be purchased at www.tabardweb.co.uk