This two hander by Ben Power is the RSC’s most recent production. It is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet deconstructed and then reconstructed to tell the story of two ageing lovers. Almost all the dialogue is Shakespeare’s, although it comes in a dfferent order and there are some lovely moments when bits of the sonnets suddenly turn up.
My heart sank whenÂ I read in one of the articles in the programme that the play includes ‘a dignified debate about euthanasia’ but mercifully this is a play which shows, not tells. We got used to plays in the seventies and eighties which gave us ‘dignified debates’ about various social and moral issues, but I don’t want any more. The article is wrong. There is no debate. Juliet decides to kill herself and we witness her being helped by Romeo. It is powerful, understated and moving. Far more moving than a ‘debate’ would have been.
The actors are Richard McCabe and Kathryn Hunter. I have to admit prejudice here. I will never forgetÂ Kathryn Hunter in The Skriker, as King Lear and in Kafka’s Monkey. Scenes from these productions run through my head in vivid detail. So do some more recent RSC productionsÂ – her teenage boy and old woman in The Grain Store, her Cleopatra and her extraordinary Fool in King Lear where one look at Lear before the Fool’s disappearance made me gasp and made me reconsider the play.Â For me she possesses the most extraordinary physical and vocal virtuosity and the most extraordinary emotional intelligence.
I was not disappointed. She is mesmerising. There is extraordinary depth to the love she conveys and, needless to say (because it is her)Â Juliet’s physical decline is brilliantly conveyed. Her eyes before Juliet’s death convey the most powerful of emotions and connections to Romeo. But McCabe is also wonderful. The performance is full of subtlety, physical, vocal, emotional.
The set is apporopriately simple with two chairs, a bed which moves up and down stage centre, a doorway, a backdrop and a screen.Â A projectionÂ of the moving sea created by Jaacques CollinÂ gradually encroaches. At the beginning it is confined to the backdrop. By the end it has engulfed the whole of the stage floor. Simple but stunning.Â John Woolf’sÂ music, too, is powerfully complementary without being obtrusive or sentimental.
Perhaps the best thing about this production by Helena Kaut-Howson is its apparent simplicity. Although the set is unrealistic the movements are wonderfully controlled. The dancing sequences which move into dream memories are beautiful – not so slick that they look stagey, but tangible expressions of a deep relationship.
This is another production featuring Kathryn Hunter which I shall never forget. You should see it before it ends at the end of October.