Preview: Romeo and Juliet

A unique and promising adaptation?

The Dryden Society will be putting on a very special show on Monday for one day only at the Trinity College Chapel. To find out more about this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that includes musical accompaniment, The Tab spoke to lead actress and producer Shaira Berg, and director Sophie Rayner.

The first question I had when I found out about this play was whether Cambridge really needed another Shakespeare play. Refreshingly, however, Sophie assured me of two things in her response: firstly, they weren’t going to pretend that their staging of Romeo and Juliet is especially different, or “radical”. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that they are underplaying this, leaving us for a positive surprise on Monday. Sophie added:

“We hope to draw upon the religious themes and language in the play, to coincide with our choice to perform in the chapel. The play starts with the two families coming to Sunday Mass and from there questions around the upholding of faith arise.”

It takes Shakespeare three scenes to introduce Juliet – how long will it take this production?

Having justified the choice of a Shakespearean play, the natural question then is why Romeo and Juliet, arguably the most overperformed of them all? Shaira argued that this play gave them the most to work with in terms of universal themes such as love, tragedy and conflict.

Expanding on this, she said that the plays “exploration of passion, familial discord, and the consequences of impulsive actions makes it a compelling choice for adaptation and performance.”

If one didn’t realise from their unique choice of stage being the Trinity Chapel, Shaira indicated that their abridged version will have emphasis on the religious connotations of the play. She highlights that this unique location, which has never seen Shakespeare before in its rich 457 year history “provides an exquisite backdrop that enhances the atmosphere of the play.”

However, using Trinity Chapel has not come without its challenges. Sophie was quick to mention how accomodating the chaplains have been, but described the struggles of only having two rehearsals in the chapel – ever! To put this in context, most plays will either rehearse entirely onstage, or have full and solo access to the stage a fortnight before their first performance.

Where will the director dispose of Mercutio and Tybalt?

Moving the blocking – arrangement of cast, furniture etc – from a small common room to a long chapel aisle is not an easy task, and I am very curious to see how it will turn out; particular challenges will include the echo within the chapel, as well as arranging actors to face the audience without getting in each others’ way!

Not wanting to give too much away about their abridged adaptation, Sophie expanded on their inclusion of live music:

“Our abridged script is very succinct and fast-moving and works well in the chapel. However, there are certain moments where the shorter script has allowed us to revel in the silence. At other times the addition of live music has really lifted the scenes, especially with how many funeral processions we have! Secondly, as our production does focus on the religious parts of the play, we decided live music and hymns are such a large part of the church that it would be lovely to incorporate them.”

Although not a comedy, funny stories about decisions director Sophie faced such as “the decision to drag cast down the [very long] chapel aisle or cover them and leave them for the rest of the play” mean that this play promises to be exciting and a very good watch.

Tickets can be bought online now for both the 3pm and 8pm performances on Monday 4th March here.