Saint John Theatre Company’s final production this season is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Yeah, I know. You studied it in high school, you even saw the movie and that was enough Shakespeare to last you a lifetime. But this will be no ordinary production of the much beloved story of star-crossed lovers. This is going to be Romeo and Juliet like you’ve never seen it.
For one thing, it is set in modern times and yes, it is in purist Shakespearean style but to emphasize the divide between the two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, the play will focus on New Brunswick’s modern day challenge – two official languages. What this means is the play will be presented in both French and English. The Capulets will speak French. The Montagues, English.
When asked why he chose to focus on the language issue, director Stephen Tobias pointed out that Shakespeare did not elaborate on the long-standing feud between the two families thus leaving future generations to put their own spin on what the cause might be. It could just as easily be about economics or religion.
For those of you of are not officially bi-lingual like moi, the theatre company is doing something they have never done before – projecting sur-titles in both languages just like they do at the opera. Rather than hinder your enjoyment of the play, Mr. Tobias thinks “it’s possible you will appreciate the story even more.”
To ensure the best possible performances on show night, auditions were held for both Francophone and Anglophones actors, and the decision about which family would speak which language was made after the strongest actors were cast.
For its French-language scenes, co-directors, Tobias and Bill Duncan, adapted Victor Hugo’s French translation of the play believing that it was the closest to Shakespeare’s original work. Tobias directed the English-speaking cast and Duncan, the French-speaking cast. Tobias, who is also SJTC’s artistic director, says “I have limited abilities to speak and read in French so the input of Bill Duncan was vital in helping the production bring out the many nuances in the French-language performances.”
Another factor that sets this production apart is the casting of two teenagers as Romeo and Juliet, rarely done, but much more in keeping with the characters in the play. Caroline Bell (Juliet) and Lukas Shannon (Romeo) are both students from KVHS, and are already quite experienced actors. Not only have they performed in numerous high school productions but they both appeared in Saint John Theatre Company’s phenomenally successful production of A Christmas Carol this past December.
And finally, an opening brawl involving much of the cast should kick-start this show and keep things lively. Professional fight choreographer, Jean-Francois Gagnon, was engaged to ensure believable and safe on-stage fights. Lukas Shannon (Romeo) says “Jean-Francois was really nice to work with. The movements were so fluid and getting to swing and knowing who’s going to duck…” Sounds like it’s not just us in the audience who will be having fun.
Despite its oft criticized theme of overly dramatic young love and its dire consequences, Tobias says “ultimately, Romeo and Juliet is a story about reconciliation.”
Saint John Theatre Company presents Romeo and Juliet, May 17-19, 2012, Imperial Theatre