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Liberal Arts students are treated to a Romeo and Juliet performance

Posted on: 27th June 2014 | Category: Music, theater and art

LIBERAL ARTS EVENING EXCURSION TO CHILLON CASTLE

The Liberal Arts visit to the Château de Chillon to watch a performance of Romeo and Juliet saw a melding of romance and the Romantic, the tragedy of ‘star-cross’d lovers’ and ravages of human history, in the slow setting twilight of Lac Léman. The Gothic architectural charms of Chillon lend to themselves to theatre, and gave us the mise-en-scène for the complex comings and goings of the Montagues and Capulets. The pilasters and arcades, window exits and entrances, the balcony scene on a stone staircase, and the bailey, or courtyard, provided the stage where the ‘civil brawls’ and sword-play and ghastly suicides, feigned and real, took place.

The staging was fixed but the characterisations were fluid enough. This was a contemporary ‘take’ on the Bard’s iconic play, yet, set in the open air of the castle grounds so terribly Elizabethan in the rough and ready performance, costume, and speech. All was very informal from the outset: Gregory and Sampson bawled in character at school-boy latecomers to take their seats; Romeo sang one of his lovelorn sonnets, though he couldn’t sing; and the predictable playing to the groundlings (on plastic chairs) by trying to involve the audience in the interactive merriment.

The director was successful in pointing up visually and underlining (several times under each gesture) every raunchy ‘quibble’ or innuendo or double-entendre or lewdness or ribaldry in this bawdy version of the play. It was not a version for delicate Victorian sensibilities, but the mostly youthful audience enjoyed their blushes in stitches.

If Romeo shouted all his lines, in every episode, Juliet seemed distinctly under-age, that is, we thought, she actually was 14. In her first appearance, she carried a rag-doll! Anne-Marie decided she was more gawky than innocent (though less innocent than her father imagined) and probably deserving to fall for the bellowing, clownish Romeo. Miss Merrett added that she was very irritating, but then, Juliet is irritating in the play too! Well, the whole production was zany and went for the comedic jugular by playing too hard and too fast for cheap laughs. Ironically on our journey to Chillon, we joked that Romeo and Juliet was one of Shakespeare’s comedies.

By contrast, the girls judged Mercutio better in both the drama and the spoken verse. His character found underlying melancholy in every cheerful cynical comment about women and men. Shakespeare’s power cannot be denied, of course, and the production left us with the pity of love. Alisa was enchanted by the whole evening for ‘For never was a story of more woe’.

Andrea said that she would like to ‘come back again and again’ and that the excursion ‘made graduation so much sadder.’

Nature was ever-present in that lapidary atmosphere of the night. Wild flower-shrubs flourished in of the dusky battlements, and one point a singing chaffinch cut across the courtyard to compete with the poetry. From then on I noted the off-stage sounds that accompanied the performance like an accidental chorus: sparrows, seagulls, nightingales, bats, and the occasional train.

The experience of Romeo and Juliet at Chillon was at once amazing and thrilling. It was Shakespeare under the stars, and as we walked out on the cobbles trodden by time itself, the tower-flares vied with the dreamless lights of Montreux across the water. Strangely enough, when the Liberal Arts class later watched a film adaptation of Daisy Miller by Henry James, there was Chillon again, not for us as a tourist destination, but an extension of Surval. Our only regret was that more of the school could not join us because the younger girls had yet to complete their examinations.


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