New take on Romeo & Juliet

With two women in the title roles, Vagabond’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet will undoubtedly leave audience members asking questions

Vagabond’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet uses minimalist costume and set designs to focus attention on the actors and stylistic choices specific to the production.
Vagabond’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet uses minimalist costume and set designs to focus attention on the actors and stylistic choices specific to the production.

If you’re expecting gory fight scenes with blood squirting into the audience, you’ll be disappointed with Vagabond’s production of the William Shakespeare classic, Romeo and Juliet. Directed by Nathanial Fried, the company’s lack of big-budget features doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. There’s no elaborate set or costume design. There’s no orchestra pit—but there’s charm.

The debut play from the recently-founded student-run Vagabond Theatre Company takes risks and daring directorial choices instead of hiding behind the text of a typical Shakespeare interpretation. It makes a simple twist of the classic that sends you out of the Wellington Street Theatre asking questions rather than raving about the choreography.

In their adaptation, Romeo and Juliet are both played by women. And that’s not the only change. There are plenty of other directorial choices that go against a tradition adaptation.

There’s oral sex and there’s a pirate.

The piece uses a meagre set with a single backdrop, that combined with scarce use of props, forces the audience to focus very intensely on the acting. The cast, composed entirely of Queen’s students, presents a solid overall performance. Chance Kellner as Juliet and Alysa King as Romeo are particularly strong in the famous roles. Vagabond co-founder Ryan LaPlante’s haunting performance as Mercutio alone makes the play deserving of an audience.

The intimate atmosphere of the Wellington Street Theatre, a former church, is the right canvas for a play that would be out of place in a larger theatre. It’s too organic for that. The rejuvenation of the old church into a theatre space mirrors the renovations the play undertakes.

The pastel-coloured costuming choices are reminiscent of country-club attire and mimic the bare-bones aesthetic of the overall concept.

At times, it’s hard to understand the reasoning behind Romeo’s gender change. A change to the script makes it clear the character is indeed to be interpreted as female as Romeo is referred to as ‘she’ rather than ‘he.’ Gender-blind casting is not in effect, which would make it seem as though there are specific reasons why Romeo is now a female. However, these reasons aren’t always clear. When it comes down to it, the two star-crossed lovers are still kept apart because of family feuds rather than social constraints.

Other choices also seem confusing.

Mercutio is dressed as The Joker, from the latest instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The connection between The Joker and Mercutio was hard to make, but LaPlante’s performance was booming and energized nonetheless. Whether the directorial aims of Vagabond’s other co-founder Nathanial Fried are achieved is irrelevant. The direction is still successful because it’s stimulating. Regardless if some conclude the commentary on modern social structure to be non-existent and the risks the play takes to be in vain, the choices still evoke thought.

It’s a refreshing alternative to blockbusterism. Without explosions or actors suspended by wires, the cast of Romeo and Juliet still created two worthwhile hours.

The company is founded by two students. Its cast is students. There’s something rewarding about experiencing a learning process that has the potential of progressing to something genius.

Fried will host a director’s talk after every show to answer questions from the audience.

Romeo and Juliet is one of three installments by Vagabond and its cast. This month’s production will be followed by Richard III in late January and the Merchant of Venice in mid-march.

The ability of two fourth year Queen’s drama students to raise a theatre company from grass is a statement. Vagabond’s Romeo and Juliet is the first sentence.

Romeo and Juliet runs from today to Nov. 7 at The Wellington Street Theatre, with matinees tomorrow, Sunday and Nov. 7 at 2 p.m. All other performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission and $12 for students and seniors and are available from Destinations and at the door.

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