A TENDER THING: Re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet by Ben Powers
RSC, The Swan, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 3h 25m, no interval. To 20.10.12.
Review: Alexander Ray, 03 10 12
So satisfying. Acting to relish.
A TENDER THING, Ben Powers’ rearrangement of Shakespeare’s texts, is an intensely emotional experience. I’m sure it is for the performers, but so, too, is it for each of us in the intimate Swan as the great waves of emotion sweep over us again and again. The play is almost (almost) too personal to watch as our elderly Romeo and Juliet live out the end of their life; yet we never feel like voyeurs . . . It is as if this Romeo and Juliet generously share their suffering with us to enable us to live our lives more at ease with ourselves.
It’s a sad tale as the narrative leads us towards Juliet’s certain death. But, unlike the original version, where the couple’s deaths shouldn’t happen, death is right in this version – it is, after all, unavoidable. It is the nature of Juliet’s dying, though, that comes under the theatrical microscope, it is its cruelty which is deemed to be unwanted, avoidable.
Hunter and McCabe thrillingly support each other throughout. The actors’ support for each other merges seamlessly with the characters’ support for each other. Nowhere is this more beautifully manifested than when Romeo feeds the weakening Juliet, food gathers round her mouth, Romeo wipes it away after each mouthful. A scene of mundane action made poetic in its theatrical context.
Helena Kaut-Howson directs with great fluidity, action moves with easeful rhythm from reality to memory to score to video. John Woolf’s score is haunting, meaningful but not obtrusive. Jacques Collin’s video designs speak powerfully, specially the repeated sea-waves motif. We are reminded at one and the same time of peace and peace of mind, and of time relentlessly passing.
There was a lovely Elizabethan conceit that Time would wear down everything except Truth. One of the truths of this R and J is that true love is all powerful.
Romeo: Richard McCabe
Juliet: Kathryn Hunter
Director: Helena Kaut-Howson
Designed by: Neil Murray
Lighting Designed by: Vince Herbert
Music by: John Woolf
Video Designed by: Jacques Collin
Sound Designed by: Mike Compton
Movement by: Jane Gibson
Dramaturg: Jeanie O’Hare
Company Text and Voice Work by: Alison Bomber
Music Director: Michael Keelan
Casting by: Helena Palmer