Year of Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

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This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.


Romeo and Juliet, Grupo Galpão, 19 May 2012 at The Globe, London

By Kate McLuskie, Shakespeare Institute

The Saturday afternoon crowd, strolling from Waterloo past the Globe  enjoyed a man in a bowler hat whose tuba spouted flames and 40s dance music, a very tall berambao player, a trad-jazz band and a flautist racing through a tune from The Magic Flute with dazzling precision. The crowd was friendly: a slowing of pace here, a smile there, but the only time people stopped was when the tuba flamed and I didn’t see anyone pay. I hope the performers covered the cost of their pitches.

The Elizabethan theatre builders were right: entertainment only works if you put a wall round it. Once the crowd was inside the Globe, we became an audience, keen to have a good time. At the Grupo Galpão show, we had a fantastic time. When the performers arrived at ground level, the crowd parted as one to let them through; we all clapped along to the music; the Portuguese speakers laughed at the verbal jokes and began, quietly, to sing along to the lullaby theme that carried the story’s wit and sadness through changes of tempo. The rest of us joined in whenever we could, applauding the most daring physical turns, laughing at Tybalt’s stammer and shrieking when Friar Lawrence finally sprayed us with holy-water in a wildly anticipated and perfectly timed gag. There was no need to read the surtitles that told the story of each scene, and no point, when the action was happening with such precision before us.

Grupo Galpão must have known they could rely on us. As my native informant said: ‘it’s Romeo and Juliet: we’ll get it’. We got it because Grupo Galpão had done their skilled creative work: the set was a platform on top of a J reg Volvo (they must have bought it at a used car lot in Brixton) with step ladders for added height and a silver moon with roses hung from fishing poles. The car, its windows ringed with stick-on flowers, was the women’s space. Girls hung out of the windows with tiny dolls as the boys played a toy-gun battle to set up the opening conflict. Juliet peeped out of the rear window to ask why Romeo was Romeo and Romeo replied from the car roof above. Best of all, the nurse took over the front, heaving her balloon bosoms out of the window in a gesture that got a huge laugh the first time but communicated her entire emotional palette as the story unfolded.

Each character’s signature action played multiple emotional roles.   The men on stilts were a gang of lads at the Capulet ball, dancing and groping their enormous doll partners, but the same stilts gave an edge of danger to the duel scenes and brought great pathos to the moment when Lady Capulet released the dying Tybalt from his. Juliet teetering en pointe in ballet shoes was silly n the love scenes and then heartbreaking when she performed a perfect dying swan dance to accompany her final lines. The Capulet family, lined up before the discovery space with Juliet lying dangerously on the edge of the gallery above them, used the same umbrellas that had balanced the stilt walkers or jokingly hidden the kissing lovers from view, to signal the funeral to a now silent audience.

Grupo Galpão also trusted us to listen to the language. Shakespeare himself (the bald head, the doublet and host) spoke the prologue as well as providing the fish-rod moon for the lovers’ meeting and leading the band. Mercutio gave us Queen Mab at length but could also shift from mock heroic Portuguese to a howl of ‘I am hurt’, spoken in English. Juliet spoke her ‘gallop apace’ aria from the top of a step-ladder with the banished Romeo sobbing in hiding below. Some of us may have caught no more than  ‘suspirao’,allegria’ and ‘corazon’,  but ‘sigh’, ‘joy’ and ‘heart’ seems a pretty good distillation of a performance of Romeo and Juliet, especially when they were all so fully experienced by the crowd at the Globe.

What do you think of this interpretation of Shakespeare? Please add your thoughts to the discussion thread below!


To read more reviews of the performances and events that are a part of the World Shakespeare Festival, visit Year of Shakespeare.


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Author:Kate McLuskie

Kate McLuskie is Professor Emerita at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. Her principle research interest is the role of theatre and drama in early-modern culture and the impact of that drama on our own time.
  • rt

    I’m afraid I
    reacted negatively to the production. You don’t mention that the stage was
    presented as a crime scene from the start. Painted outlines of two dead bodies
    dominated the floor throughout but death and murder and knife-crime as themes
    were hardly tackled. The production was dominated by broad, clownish, circus
    humour and, for me, the actors didn’t make successful transitions to make the
    sad bits work. It just wasn’t touching when it should have been. The play
    started and ended in the same way with a song and dance procession through the
    groundlings to and from the stage. I’d argue that their main reaction to the
    big death scenes at the end was to have a carnival. Self-contradictory and
    unsatisfying. I can see what you mean by characters’ signature actions and
    multiple emotional roles but I only saw repetition and heavy-handedness. I’d
    quickly had enough of the nurse and her false breasts and her monotone voice.


    “The Elizabethan theatre builders were
    right: entertainment only works if you put a wall round it.”


    This is a
    sweeping statement and I would argue that it isn’t true. I’ve spent too long
    chasing ritual, street dance and drama festivals and parades in Asia in
    particular to leave it without reply. I can’t go on at length so I’ll just
    mention a few random, wall-less events accepting it’s largely a list of words:
    Burmese pwe; the That Luang festival in Vientiane; Gwacheon Hanmandang,
    the 7080 Chungjang Recollection Festival (both South
    Korea); Hachinohe Enburi, Saidaiji Eyo, Okayama, Miya matsuri, Kunchi
    matsuri, Nagasaki, (all Japan); Aliwan, Manila; festivals to honour
    ancestors and display girls for marriage in Guizhou province, China. Each of
    these is dazzling – entertainment and a lot more. In my experience, Japan
    offers the most bizarre, enthralling dance, ritual and parades outdoors in its
    matsuri (festivals) and there’s rarely a wall in site. The Phillippines offer
    the most sophisticated large-scale street choreography, I think. We do have the
    Notting Hill Carnival but generally we don’t do life like that in England.
    Festivals here are not the integral part of the annual cycle that they are in
    Asia. We have though started to do a bit more over the past few years. London
    now has events such as Dancing City in Canary Wharf and Big Dance 2010
    presented at least two wonderful dance performances outdoors: Counterpoint by
    Shobana Jeyasingh in the fountains at Somerset House and a Lover’s Journey
    which presented Indian classical dance in a promenade production in the gardens
    around Valentines Mansion in Ilford. One of the main purposes of walls is to
    ensure that people pay – in advance.

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