Romeo and Juliet, you are thinking in your mind, is a play that has been done countless times before, that there simply isn’t any reason to go see it for the nth time. The play has been performed so many times that it has passed into the realm of cliché. So I likewise thought as I walked down the red carpeted hall leading towards the auditorium the night of the performance. But to my surprise, my friends, I beheld the most unexpected scene as I strode into the theatre just moments later.
Just imagine my mistake, thinking I was going to see Shakespeare’s pristine Romeo and Juliet, when instead I stumbled straight into a real 17th century Elizabethan theatre, complete with brawling, yelling, rioting actors-turned-scoundrels a'bangin’on tin lids and trying to sell things in cockney accents before the show.
Imagine my surprise as a carrot flew through the air from one side of the audience to the other, thrown by a rogue in the melee, as another rogue hollered, “Silver platter! Anwone fer a silver platter! Yers for only five ducats!”
The Classical Theatre Project produces Shakespeare designed especially for youth, and performs for over 50,000 high school students per year. With a mandate to take Shakespeare “from the page to the stage,” they seek to inspire young students with an understanding and appreciation of literature. As such, every aspect of their plays is crafted meticulously towards this younger audience.
You would think such tailoring would make Romeo and Juliet a little puerile for the rest of us, wouldn’t you? But in fact, this is exactly what makes the play so brilliant. Sure, Romeo and Juliet both behave as though they were five years old, and their emotional monologues seem more like the temper tantrums of prepubescent teens, but then isn’t that what they were? And sure, their reactions seem irrational and unfounded, and their love the swirling consuming passion of children, but isn’t that what it was?
Juliet seems a bit crude at times and Romeo a bit of a dolt, but god they were charming! I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much through a tragedy. The production expects you to be young, innocent, and seeing the play for the first time. And so without realizing it, we experience it as young, innocent people. Although we may have seen it before, it somehow feels like we are watching it for the first time.
See Romeo and Juliet in March 2010—when the production returns to Hart House—for some young love, old fashioned humour, and lots of charm.