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London Actors Present: Eliz-Urbethan Romeo & Juliet

Stephanie DePrez | Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Actors form the London Stage present their five-person show, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” for the last time tonight in Washington Hall after a week of classroom work and performances.

There is perhaps nothing more cliché in British literature than “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare. The story is known in grade school, read in middle school, re-read in high school and perhaps beaten to death by the time one gets to college. The quest, then, to make the story of the inescapably star-crossed lovers relevant or entertaining can be quite a challenge.

The Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS) pull it off — and then some. Their no-holds physical rendition is by far the most unique performance of the classic tale on this side of the Atlantic. Going beyond just an “updated version,” these five actors thrust the doomed love story into an MTV aesthetic. Far from Elizabethan, this staging ends up more along the lines of Eliz-Urbethan.
But what are they even doing here? Actress Liz Crowther, who plays the Nurse, Prince and Paris, among others, explains how this group grew from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

“Thirty years ago, a teaching tour was cancelled. The actors were so sad that they decided to stay where they were and mount their own thing. The program took off, and today it is five actors who direct, design and act all the parts,” Crowther said. The trick, then, becomes making a story clear on a stripped away stage. “The text stands out,” Crowther said, forcing the actors to find new ways to deliver it.
Today the actors are drawn from the RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. They are invited to participate in the AFTLS tour, which brings not only a show to Notre Dame, but also lectures, workshops, seminars and classroom appearances. Throughout the week Crowther and her colleagues, Marshall Griffin, Jennifer Higham, Geoffrey Lumb and Martin Parr, tromped all over this wind-swept, snowy campus from class to rehearsal and back to class, toting the beauty of the Bard.
One might wonder what a lake-effect weather n00b might be thinking. “Blinking heck!” Crowther said.

“Notre Dame is absolutely extraordinary. It’s very exciting to be here. We’ve had nice reactions in class to things,” she said. “We even saw a skunk!”

They’ve also had quite an interesting time navigating campus.

“It’s an incredible place. Schools like Cambridge have lots of different colleges, but this is amazing,” Crowther said.

They certainly add to its luster with their performance, which takes the stripped down version of the text and spices it up with enough sexual innuendo to keep a high schooler glued.

The performance opens up with all five actors in hoodies, hoods up. Two rival soccer teams (or should we say football?) begin a game and conflict ensues. From this fray develops a story laced with movement and music. The blocking is so physically involved that it almost becomes a dance, with something visually entertaining going on at all times. What would in any other situation look overly physically explanatory seems appropriate because the actors are completely committed to engaging each other and the audience. Nothing seems like overkill because the flow has so much continuity.

From gang fights to dirty jokes, there is no lack of urban flavor. There is just as much innuendo as needed and it’s well played, keeping you wondering if they’re really going to go there (and yes, they do). As Crowther pointed out, “It’s lovely to have a young Romeo and Juliet, because they can do it so beautifully.”

Tonight is the last opportunity to brush up on your Shakespeare and catch these Brits before they move on. “Shakespeare is the most marvelous man,” Crowther said. “Four hundred years after death, he’s still astonishing people.”

“Romeo and Juliet” begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Washington Hall. Tickets are $12 for students. Call (574) 631-2800 or visit the Web site performingarts.nd.edu for tickets.

Contact Stephanie DePrez at sdeprez@nd.edu