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AFTLS perform ‘Romeo and Juliet’

MEGAN DOYLE | Friday, January 29, 2010

Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS) are reviving the British theatre tradition at Notre Dame during this week’s performances of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which present the play in its original version, at Washington Hall.

The star-crossed lovers of Verona have spurred an unprecedented cultural following that often inspires moderns twists on “Romeo and Juliet,” yet the AFTLS return the show to its Shakespearean roots. 

“I would love to see a traditional version since I have never seen the play performed before,” freshman Olivia Lee said.

Director of Audience Development Aaron Nichols described the AFTLS as truly unique. The program is in its 35th year and acts as “an actor-driven tour de force,” according to the company’s Web site. 

“The most exciting aspect is that these actors really get down to the meat of Shakespeare’s text,” Nichols said. “It is fascinating to see a show that has been done more elaborately cut down to its very soul.”

The five actors to appear on stage hail from impressive backgrounds and boast résumés that include some of the most prestigious stages in London, Nichols said. These individuals are challenged to divide 20 to 30 parts from the Shakespearean plays and are considered experts on the texts.

“I expect both a strong historical focus and an emphasis on good verse speaking,” Department of English research professor John Wilkinson said.

Student interaction is an integral part of the company’s tour. 

“The classroom workshops are truly an original concept,” Nichols said. “The actors are in upwards to 30 to 35 classrooms per week.”

Wilkinson will host actress Jennifer Higham in a classroom workshop on Friday and was particularly excited about bringing this “particular tradition of English acting” to his students in a personal form.

“As for the performance, I am quite interested to see the nurse,” Wilkinson said. “She is a challenging character for a modern actor because she is simultaneously a warm and maternal figure, as well as strongly interested in Juliet’s marriage prospects, and also very filthy minded.”

The objective of Shakespeare at Notre Dame is to embrace “humanist study and the performing arts in the exploration of drama in a Christian context,” as stated on the program Web site. The AFTLS is one branch of this mission to bring the study of Shakespeare to the University setting here in South Bend.

A substantial audience is expected when this renowned play takes the stage of Washington Hall, Nichols said.

“We are expecting large crowds because ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one of Shakespeare’s most popular, albeit most tragic, romances,” he said. 

Though the plot of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and their doomed romance is well known, this unique company should still bring added flair to the classic show. 

“I know what happens in the story,” freshman Adam Zebrowski said. “But I am still expecting to be entertained, especially by the more comedic parts with Benvolio and Mercutio.”

“Romeo and Juliet” will be performed in Washington Hall at 7:30 p.m. tonight.