A re-working which puts Rosaline at the centre of the action
I love the concept of a Manchester Shakespeare Company. Shakespeare plays are awash with different adaptations and treatments which has seen them travel through time and around the globe. It seems only right that Manchester should grab a little piece of the action.
While a prequel to Romeo and Juliet isn’t unusual, it’s certainly different. However, don’t take the title literally. Before, During and After Juliet would have made a better description, as in this treatment we follow Rosaline the niece of Capulet through her fledgling relationship with Romeo, the turmoil as Juliet enters the mix, and after the star crossed lovers have met their fateful end.
In Shakespeare’s original Rosaline is an unseen character who Romeo is deeply in love with. A love which is unreturned. Romeo first sees Juliet whilst trying to catch a glimpse of Rosaline at a Capulet family gathering. The rest as they say is history.
The Rosaline in Before Juliet has an altogether different story.
In Before Juliet, the Monague / Capulet feud centres around the ownership of immigrant Kamil Capulet’s car dealership. Abandoned by her father, Rosaline and her mother are taken in by uncle Kamil who she sees as a father figure.
Rosaline and Romeo have already been dating for a couple of weeks when Kamil’s daughter, Juliet arrives from Paris. Juliet and Romeo meet at a Capulet family party and I think you can guess what happens next.
Other than the merest snippet of Shakespeare quill at the start and finish of the play, the remainder is written by a modern day pen. It’s hard, gritty and at times incredibly violent.
For me, stand out performances were delivered by Amy Gavin who is extremely watchable as Rosaline. Her spiral from needy girlfriend into dark jealousy as Juliet muscles in on her world is chilling. As are the trio of Dean Gregory as Romeo Montague, Sam Beresford as Michael ‘Mercutio’ Montague and James Oates as Jason Tybalt, who manage to deliver both menace and comedy with great skill.
Before Juliet is actually rather like the famous Morcambe and Wise Christmas Special where Eric plays “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.” While all the characters are there in Before Juliet, they don’t necessarily do the same things as in the original play. If you know the original, there will be bits you recognise, but it’s definitely had a shake up.
The staging is made up of simple black hinged boards which fold, open and close like children’s origami fortune teller game. Changes between scenes were frequent, but didn’t detract from the flow of the production.
Overall, I enjoyed Before Juliet, however I feel it would benefit from an increase in pace as it felt a touch long. I also wish that the script had done what it said in the title and focused on Romeo and Rosaline before Juliet came along.
Before Juliet runs at 3MT from 17th – 22nd March 2014.
Written by John Topliff and Hannah Ellis
Directed by Gina T Frost and Matt Cawson
Stage Manager Keziah Gardom
Casting Laura Littlewood and Hannah Ellis
Amy Gavin as Rosaline ‘Roz’ Hope.
Dean Gregory as Romeo Montague
Elouise Bracewell as Juliet Capulet
Nakib Narat as Kamil Capulet
Tracy Gabbitatis as Elaine Hope
Sam Beresford as Michael “Merc” Montague
James Oates as Jason Tybalt
Featuring TMSC ‘Rude Mechanicals’
For more information and to book tickets, visit threeminutetheatre.co.uk
Alison x (your 4Manchester Women Editor)
Photographs: The Manchester Shakespeare Company