A Word from the Director
Shakespeare’s ‘star-crossed lovers’ are almost certainly amongst his best known characters, and the play itself was voted his most popular in a You Gov survey to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the author’s death. This story of transgressive romance, both challenging and overcoming parental and societal limitations struck a chord with the audience from the moment of its creation, as the title page of its 1597 publication tells us; “it hath been often, with great applause, plaid publiquely”.
What interested me about this celebrated love story is that it is as much about violence and hatred as it is about romance. The world the lovers inhabit is one fuelled by revenge, and internecine conflict. I wanted to find a way to represent a community torn by rivalry that the younger generation would like to escape, but which values loyalty to the family above all other considerations. The solution which came to me was to embed the drama firmly in the Italian culture that Shakespeare chose as his setting. Shakespeare’s fascination with Italy permeates the cannon of his work and the country is referenced so frequently that some scholars suggest that he may have travelled in Italy during his so called ‘lost years’ sometime between the mid-1580s and 1590s.
I have consequently chosen to set this production in Verona in the early 1960s with the context of La Mala del Brenta, a Northern Italian version of the Mafia. During this period a number of high-ranking Sicilian Mafiosi were sent to serve time in solitary confinement in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia regions. They gradually built networks with local underworld figures and rose to positions of power and prominence, eventually founding a high-calibre international syndicate, whilst also bringing old grudges and enmities along with them from the South. From the mid nineteen fifties through into the early sixties the model of the rebellious teenager, flaunting convention and challenging authority was also a developing social phenomenon, making it a suitable period for a story in which young people are developing a burgeoning sense of their own agency. Juliet is a young woman trapped in a fiercely patriarchal society, whose body is destined to be used a pawn to support her father’s strategic alliances. It takes enormous courage for her to resist such pressure, and to make a choice she recognises, at the very least, will cause her to be separated from her family forever. The power of love as an ecstatic, tempestuous and overpowering force that cannot be gainsaid is, of course, the central theme of the drama, but Virgil’s proverbial statement omnia vincit amor is overturned by the fact that Shakespeare chooses tragedy as his mode of expression, leading Romeo and Juliet towards the inevitability of death, and the play to its final outcome ‘a glooming peace’.
RULING HOUSE OF ESCALUS
- Prince Escalus, Prince of Verona
- Mercutio, kinsman of Escalus, friend of Romeo
- Paris, kinsman of Escalus who wishes to marry Juliet
HOUSE OF MONTAGUE
- Montague, patriarch of the House of Montague
- Lady Montague, matriarch of the House of Montague
- Romeo, son of the Montagues
- Benvolio, cousin and friend of Romeo
- Abraham and Balthasar, servants in the Montague household
HOUSE OF CAPULET
- Capulet, patriarch of the House of Capulet
- Lady Capulet, matriarch of the House of Capulet
- Juliet, daughter of the Capulets
- Tybalt, cousin of Juliet, nephew of Lady Capulet
- Nurse, Juliet’s personal attendant and confidante
- Peter, Sampson and Gregory, servants in the Capulet household
- Rosaline (unseen), niece of Capulet with whom Romeo is in love
An ongoing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues breaks out again on the streets of Verona. Both sides are warned by Prince Escalus that they must not disturb the peace again, on pain of death.
Romeo, love-sick for Rosaline, is comforted by his friend Benvolio. Capulet forbids Paris to marry his daughter Juliet until she is older. Romeo and his friends learn of a party being held by the Capulets and decide to go to it as masquers. At the party, Tybalt sees Romeo but is prevented from fighting him by Capulet. Romeo meets Juliet and they instantly fall in love. After leaving the party, Romeo eludes his friends and returns to meet Juliet; they exchange vows of love. Romeo confides in Friar Lawrence and he consents to marry them.
Benvolio tells Mercutio that Tybalt has sent Romeo a challenge. Romeo joins them ad is visited by the Nurse, who is told of the marriage plan. When Juliet learns of it, she goes to Friar Lawrence’s cell, and the lovers are married. Tybalt, looking for Romeo, finds Benvolio and Mercutio. Romeo returns and is challenged by Tybalt, but refuses to fight. Mercutio draws on Tybalt, but is fatally wounded. Tybalt then fights with Romeo and is killed. Romeo flies and Benvolio reports the happenings to the Prince, who banishes Romeo.
The Nurse tells Juliet of Romeo’s banishment and promises to bring him to her. The Friar informs a distraught Romeo that he is banished, but advises him to visit Juliet secretly before leaving for Mantua.
Capulet tells Paris that he may marry Juliet in three days’ time; Lady Capulet brings the news to Juliet, who has just bade Romeo a hasty farewell. Juliet refuses to marry Paris, persisting in the face of her father’s anger. She goes to the Friar for help and finds Paris there, arranging the marriage. When Paris has left, thi friar devises a plan: he will give Juliet a drink that will make her appear dead, so that she can avoid marriage, and will write to Romeo to tell him; they can then elope to Mantua.
Juliet tell her father she will marry Paris, and Capulet bring the wedding forward to the next day. Juliet retires and drinks the liquid. When her ‘body’ is discovered, all mourn and she is taken to the family crypt. In Manuta, Balthasar tellsr Romeo that Juliet is dead. He vows to lie dead next to her that night and obtains a poison from an apothecary. Friar Lawrence learns from Friar John that his letter did not reach Romeo. Realising his danger, Lawrence leaves to explain to Juliet what has happened.
Paris goes to Juliet’s tomb to mourn her, and encounters Romeo. They fight, and Romeo kills Paris. Romeo then drinks the poison and dies beside Juliet. The Friar arrives to see Romeo dead and Juliet waking. She refuses to leave and kills herself with Romeos’ dagger. Officers arrive, then rouse the families and the Prince. The Friar explains what has happened. Montague and Capulet agree to make peace with each other.