The classic Shakespearean play Romeo & Juliet is widely known for the tragic plight of its titular star-crossed lovers. The decade of the 1960s, nearly 400 years after the original play was written, was a time of partying and big hair, embracing peace, and social change. Nobody would think that these two subjects could be combined into an innovative theatre production, but the students from Langara College’s Studio 58 have done just that. Somehow, it works.
The story is set in 1965, and opens during one of artist Andy Warhol’s famous Factory parties, where members of the feuding families of Capulet and Montague are in attendance. It is there that Juliet Capulet first catches Romeo Montague’s eye, and they begin a passionate love affair despite the hatred between their two families, with Warhol filming every step of their relationship along the way.
This adaptation of Romeo & Juliet creatively reinterprets several aspects of the original story. Aside from Warhol’s initial Factory party, several ’60s songs are played or performed by members of the cast to accentuate the mood of the transpiring scene. Some scenes are even devoid of dialogue completely, only narrating the events that are unfolding with an artful soundtrack and purposeful blocking of cast members’ movements. Every move and set decision was executed with intention and precision. In fact, they had to be, as the set and choreography were essentially what made re-enacting the story of Romeo & Juliet in the ’60s seem natural and effortless.
Interesting decisions were also made on the part of portraying the play’s original cast members. For instance, the originally pious Friar Laurence (here simply Laurence, played by Brandon Bragg) that marries the couple is hilariously portrayed as a weed gathering hippie, and Juliet’s nurse is instead her sassy, outspoken, and flirtatious cousin Nance (Samantha Pawliuk). Lastly, the main role of Romeo is portrayed as a woman (Camille Legg), as other characters refer to her using feminine pronouns consistently throughout the play.
Bragg and Pawliuk both brought humour and wit to their roles that brought out a few laughs from the audience. Legg brought an emotional depth to Romeo as well as a strong willfulness. Her lady love Juliet (Adelleh Furseth) was also fierce and passionate, delivering Shakespearean verse with a quick and quirky tongue. Another standout performance came from Conor Stinson-O’Gorman, who played Romeo’s outspoken friend Mercutio, as he delivered each line with a profound commitment to his character’s loud (and sometimes crass) personality.
Studio 58’s adaptation of Romeo & Juliet uses the pop art of Andy Warhol to paint the Shakespearean classic with fresh colours. Whether depicting a rocking Factory party or an intense feud between families, this eclectic production about the famous star-crossed lovers is worth seeing.