REVIEW Wyse’s Park: Romeo and Juliet
WATERFORD Youth Arts presented a first-class outdoor production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at Wyse Park last week. Given the constraints of the venue, director Jim Nolan does a first-rate job of work on a production that is pacy, snappy and largely traditional. Jim remained faithful to the script throughout and a snappy edit moves the production along and makes sure that the storyline remains rock-solid. Nolan keeps a firm grasp on the verse so that the music of the magnificent language of Romeo and Juliet is never drowned out. The young cast is word-perfect throughout and there isn’t a moment’s hesitancy. Given the outdoor setting and the need for larger-than-life gestures, the quality of acting is a delight and augers well for the future of theatre in the city.
‘The current cancel culture and woke brigade are already at work with warnings on the Bard’s most famous romantic tragedy’
Romeo and Juliet is not a simple storyline. It has multiple sub-plots, a large cast and a sequence of fate-driven twists and turns that involve quarrelling and mutinous families, a vengeful Duke, loyal and disloyal friends, interfering servants and priests, messages that stray, duels and street brawls, love scenes and suicides. And the most lyrical of language that is a delight to listen to.
The current cancel culture and woke brigade are already at work with warnings on the Bard’s most famous romantic tragedy. Ah… snowflakes in search of snowballs that can become avalanches. A current Globe production of Romeo and Juliet has announced they will be including a warning for upsetting themes in its latest production of Romeo and Juliet. It has decided to include information about the Samaritans suicide helpline in the souvenir programme as well as details for the mental health charity the Listening Place. There is already a warning on the website which reads: “This production contains depictions of suicide, moments of violence and references to drug use.” Heaven knows what warnings will accompany Hamlet and Macbeth.
Nevertheless, the fundamental question of what set of circumstances would drive these two young people to end their lives in such a dramatic fashion is clearly addressed in Nolan’s production. One by one, the circumstances of the tragedy that denies the boundless love of Romeo and Juliet are outlined and picked over… the party… the balcony meeting… the quarrel… the sword-fight… Romeo’s murderous revenge for the death of his friend Mercutio… the Capulet’s arranged marriage for Juliet… the dreadful potion that feigns death… Friar Lawrence’s letter that goes astray… Romeo’s suicide on discovering the apparently dead Juliet and Juliet’s subsequent suicide with ‘Oh happy dagger! Here is thy sheath; there rest and let me die’.
The success of the tragedy rests largely on the shoulders of the actors who play the eponymous hero and heroine of the play. Charlie Meagher is superb as the brooding, handsome Romeo who is dogged in his pursuit of the fair Juliet and vengeful in his execution of the obnoxious Tybalt. Devlyn Lonergan gives us quite the modern take on the teenage Juliet, struggling with the constraints of an era when a woman exchanged obedience to a father for obedience to a husband. Devlyn’s Juliet is everything we want in a Juliet: romantic, feisty, intelligent, spirited and not to be denied.
While the setting enhances some elements of the production – notably the final death scene and epilogue – it works against the young lovers in creating that intimacy we all love in the tragedy. Nevertheless, the excellent Charlie Meagher and compelling Devlyn Lonergan strike a balance that makes us believe that their love at first sight is vibrant, believable and a thing of beauty. Shakespeare’s clever use of disguised love informs the plotline in an intriguing way because it makes us realise that we – the audience – aren’t privy to every aspect of their relationship. As a result, the lovers always remain just beyond our reach and the intensity of their relationship proves a little enigmatic.
Acting throughout this production is top-class. Mary O’Donoghue is a scene-stealing, delightful Mercutio who dies with such passion, “a plague on both your houses”. Maria Grant is an imposing and quarrelsome Tybalt, Saorla Caitriona is an engaging and prattling Nurse, Elliot Jordan Kennedy and Lily Murphy are stern and unyielding as Juliet’s parents, Kassie O’Mahoney is a strong counsellor as Friar Lawrence, Edward Pagtakhan is an informative Benvolio, while Tia Weldon is a duplicitous Apothecary who profits from Romeo’s determination to end his death with ‘mortal drugs’ from his deadly stock of poison.
The final scene, as the cast and audience follow Juliet’s bier and make their way along the dark and gloomy walls that carry the tombstones that stretch back to Shakespeare’s time down to the vault at the end of the park, was atmospheric, sombre and eerily silent. A fitting finale to the bittersweet symphony of Romeo and Juliet.
Well done to Waterford Youth Arts for reminding us of what is possible in these strange times.