Romeo and Juliet, The Globe, 20 May 2012
The motor car is a symbol of modern industrial society and of modernity in general.
The central element of Grupo Galpão’s set for their Brazilian Portuguese production of Romeo and Juliet constituted a wholesale subversion of that symbolism.
A silver Volvo estate stood covered with painted flowers and plant pots. Long poles bearing parasols arced from a platform on its roof. The bonnet was covered by a platform on which stood a step ladder also topped with a parasol. The edge of the stage was decorated with small potted plants linked by an arc of powdery white flour.
The dream-like world evoked by the set was enhanced by the gently lilting music played by the cast as they entered through the yard.
Unlike the bombastic drumming and loud noise at the start of many other Globe to Globe productions, this performance began with a combination of carnival and lullaby, played on flute, drum, guitar, accordion and saxophone.
The audience was being floated into the world the play, which, as the flower-festooned car already suggested, was a kinder and softer one than the congested streets of London beyond the theatre.
All the cast had clownish faces: the lower part of the face was painted white with a red streak across the face over the nose. Only Mercutio (Rodolfo Vaz) had an actual clown nose because of the particular nature of his character, which he only removed shortly before dying.
An element of darkness was, however, present in this garden of innocence. The chalk outlines of two dead bodies were marked at the front of the stage. Just behind them were two pots containing crude wooden crosses carved with the names of Romeo and Juliet.
The performance lasted one hour and forty-five minutes with no interval, enabling the production’s ambiance to be maintained without interruption. Several characters were cut including the Montague parents and Paris. Their contributions to the plot were handled by narration.
Grupo Galpão had been touring this production since the 1990s with a virtually unchanged cast, meaning that Romeo was beginning to grey slightly. But that added an antique charm to what was already a very whimsical theatrical experience.
The figure of Shakespeare acted as narrator, spending much of the time on top of a stepladder perched on the car’s bonnet platform. He explained the history of the feud between the Montague and Capulet families, which was acted out around the car in a mock gun fight, ending with the Nurse (Teuda Bara) shooting a lot of Montagues dead.
As if enough frivolity had not already been introduced into the production, the first main characters we saw, Benvolio (Júlio Maciel) and Romeo (Eduardo Moreira), entered on stilts. Romeo floated around the stage playing the accordion with one hand while holding a parasol in the other.
Lady Capulet (Inźs Peixoto) was a severe figure in black who held a black parasol in one hand and had a bird perched on the other. Her daughter Juliet (Fernanda Vianna) spent much time en pointe in her ballet shoes. The absolutely glorious Nurse was quite a large woman enhanced with comical fake breasts, which were often to be seen draped out of the car window as she sat inside.
Benvolio and Mercutio danced with large mannequin torsos strapped to them on their way to the Capulet ball.
Stilt walking Romeo broke free of the party guests when he saw Juliet twirling in a series of ballet poses on the car roof. He caught up with her when she moved onto the step ladder on the bonnet platform, which put her just above him.
Romeo assisted her, as she gracefully extended each leg in turn, to descend the ladder to the platform, enabling them to dance and embrace. His stilts conveyed the precarious nature of Romeo’s situation as a Montague in the Capulet residence.
Tybalt (Paulo André) was tall and had a stammer, which undercut any menace he might have exuded threatening Romeo. He was chastened, not by Capulet (Beto Franco), but Lady Capulet.
When he learnt that his new love Juliet was a Capulet, Romeo fell backwards off his stilts.
The balcony sequence also made use of the car, but despite the high elevations offered by the step ladder, the staging put the action closer to the ground.
Romeo lay on the roof of the car. Juliet came out of the car door to stand on a stool just in front, pleading with the imagined Romeo to change his name. When the real Romeo heard this and responded, Juliet took fright and ran back inside the car, shutting the door. They both ended up on the car roof. A crescent moon hung in the air from a long pole, enabling Romeo to swear by it and Juliet to try and dissuade him from vowing by something so inconstant. Nurse called out to Juliet from inside the car, bringing their brief tryst to an end.
A great comedy moment came when Benvolio, Mercutio and Romeo were joking with the Nurse. At the end of his flirting with her, Mercutio flipped up her comedy breast and top to reveal briefly the actress’s naked body underneath.
Friar Laurence (Paulo André again) wore sunglasses and had a gown festooned with images of saints. When officiating at the wedding of Romeo and Juliet he enquired in English whether there were any sinners in the audience and then threw his holy water over the groundlings
After the killings of Tybalt and Mercutio, Romeo was banished by the Prince (Beto Franco again). As Juliet stood on the platform waiting for him to arrive, the distraught Romeo sat underneath its steps and played the accordion whilst gently crying. The musical accompaniment to her words represented the joy he brought her, but this was now overlaid with the sound of his tears, flowing because he knew he was doomed to be separated from her.
The final deaths involved Juliet obtaining a second-marriage-avoiding sleeping draught from Friar Laurence. After drinking it down on the roof, she collapsed inside the car.
After general uproar at her supposed death, she was laid on the balustrade of the Globe stage balcony. The car was moved to one side, revealing the grieving Capulet family sat behind it.
Romeo rushed onto the balcony and discovered Juliet laid to rest there. Distraught, he drank his poison and descended to the main stage to collapses onto the chalk outline in front of the grave marker that had stood waiting for him throughout the entire performance.
Juliet revived and found Romeo dead on the main stage. She tried to kiss poison from his lips, but finally stabbed herself with a palm leaf taken from the pot marking his grave. She held it with both hands stretched out in front of her and majestically drove it downwards. She danced something resembling the “Dying Swan” and then collapsed onto the chalk outline in front of her grave marker holding hands with her beloved Romeo.
There was an epilogue in English that called on the audience to take the spirit of the story with us and celebrate the couple who had committed the sin of love. The ensemble exited through the yard playing just as they had arrived and were mobbed by the appreciative audience.