This March, Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company (EUSC) will be staging Romeo and Juliet, their 10th production since the society’s founding, starring Douglas Clark as Romeo and Eliza Lawrence as Juliet. EUSC decided to celebrate its 10-year anniversary by showcasing one of the Bard’s most well-known works, performed on a grand scale with a large cast and crew.
Making the infamous tragedy feel fresh is always a challenge and, for director Finlay McAfee, a crucial part of this is considering what the play means for the current climate. Since almost everyone knows the plot, it is important to engage the audience whilst also conveying a sense of foreboding. EUSC’s interpretation of the play focuses on the concept of fate, with emphasis placed on the symbolism of the stars. This contemporary production will strike a balance between the evocative language of Shakespeare and modern day experiences, with celestial and twilight imagery used to convey a dream-like, fantastical atmosphere.
“All plays are meant to be seen,” McAfee stresses, “Shakespeare’s language needs to be heard, it’s not meant to be read off a page.” The audience should be given credit to be able to understand and experience the full power and beauty of the words, but the language must also be made accessible – giving the audience a way in. The best character in the play, in McAfee’s view? “Without a doubt, Mercutio. He’s so much fun!”
Key to Romeo and Juliet’s longevity is its powerful simplicity, according to McAfee. The story of young people falling in love is as iconic as it is relatable. The piece’s darker elements should not be played down or softened, McAfee says. The play is meant to be distressing at times.
Although the crassness of many of the male characters’ dialogue is objectionable by today’s standards – for instance the rape ‘banter’ in the first scene – the director believes the audience can handle it; to sanitise the play would be doing the audience a disservice.
Fourth year music student Madison Willing has composed an original score for the production. Willing’s score, a fusion of classical and drone music, is minimalistic and deliberately light-handed, allowing it to slip in under the dialogue without drawing attention to itself. Willing views music as an important way to modernise the play, giving it a cinematic feel whilst still maintaining a sense of gravitas. As the play progresses, the score itself begins to break down, reflecting the disintegration of the lovers’ world, creating an eerie, disconcerting feel.
EUSC’s Romeo and Juliet will be performed at Pleasance Theatre from the 6 to 10th March, with tickets on sale from Valentine’s Day onwards. EUSC will also be staging Much Ado About Nothing this summer at the Fringe, auditions for which will be held soon.
Image: Andrew Perry