Having seen The Lord Chamberlain's Men’s performances every year since their conception (the company was formed in 2005 as an all-male company who aim to replicate the touring companies of Shakespeare’s time), I was already aware of the unique qualities upon which this company prides itself. Sitting with a picnic of delights in front of me on one of this summer’s rare sunny evenings, I was able to gain a few glimpses of preparatory action behind the company’s basic, yet perfectly sufficient wooden stage, which they erect and dismantle themselves at each venue. I managed to steal a wonderfully heart-warming view of the cast, as just before beginning their performance, they embraced in a group to affirm their support for each other and enthusiasm for the performance ahead. It is this very sense of a close-knit team that shines through in the performance itself, presenting not just individual actors, but an interacting group who, in turn, are able to bring the audience into their inclusive approach to performance. In-keeping with Renaissance theatrical tradition, the players preceded the play with music and song. TLCM executes this with particular effect, helping to set the scene in a challenging open-air environment by wandering through the picnicking crowd as they sing. With a mixture of madrigals and drinking songs, they successfully draw the attention of the audience to the stage.
Although the mood does—as one would expect—darken with the dusk as the play progresses, an unusually light, comedic approach is taken, most notably in the opening fight scene. At first, I was taken aback by this approach, used to the traditionally sudden violence and conflict that begins most productions of Romeo and Juliet. However, this approach to the play induces a marvellous portrayal of Mercutio (Richard Corgan)—a character that upon first appearance seems inappropriately comical, almost farcical, but becomes a brilliant and just interpretation, most notable in his own death scene. Not only do the puns he utters as he dies have extra emphasis, but more empathy for Mercutio is possible than in any other performance I have seen. The audience not only mourns his murder out of sadness for Romeo’s loss, but they feel grief at the loss of the loveable and witty Mercutio that they have themselves come to admire.
The tragic atmosphere is quickly and cleverly recaptured after the interval, aided by the setting of the sun. This performance seems to work perfectly outdoors, with darkness naturally descending as the tragedy unfolds. That the serious and melancholic scene between the nurse and Juliet is convincing is evidence that these male actors’ portrayal of the characters has become entirely accepted by the audience. With this production’s more comical interpretation of earlier scenes, the audience is almost invited to laugh with the actors as they masquerade as women on stage. This then becomes a liberating theatrical technique, which allows the audience, having accepted the obvious physical barriers of Renaissance acting traditions, to concentrate on the words and action of the play. General interpretation and delivery of the text is incredibly effective. Not only are the many play-on-words consciously highlighted, but even junior members of the audience seem entranced by the energetically presented dialogue.
TLCM seem to have made a clear judgement on Romeo and Juliet’s relationship—one that becomes clear in David Eaton’s portrayal of Juliet. An interpretation that initially comes across as mere effeminate male behaviour, gradually unearths itself once the play is in its full throes of teenage frivolity. This production seems to infer that though it may feel genuine to both lovers, their frivolity in love—the intense and previously unknown power of young love—is what causes their unnecessary and untimely end. An original and persuading interpretation and a joy to watch, TLCM are doing an invaluable job, making Shakespeare’s works more accessible to a wider audience, whilst living out the spirit and conviviality of the many touring companies of Shakespeare’s era.