Night Light Theatre transform Verona, the world of Romeo and Juliet, into an isolated magical space comparable to The Tempest’s Island, which ‘is full of noises,/Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not’ (III.ii, lines 135-6). The youthful and extremely talented cast provide a vocalised soundtrack to indicate key dramatic moments particularly the fighting between the Montagues and Capulets. They also play the accordion, acoustic guitar, violin and flute to create a world of love and mirth before tragic events take precedence.
What is particularly interesting is that Night Light Theatre appear to oppose the traditional lavish Shakespearean production. There are no elaborate stage sets, expensive designer costumes, unwieldy props, a lengthy running time slavish to Shakespeare’s every word (anything shorter than three hours is normally a rip-off) or a focus on the great individual performances of the play’s main characters. Instead, the audience are treated to a streamlined seventy-five minutes in which the play’s tension never flags. Purists may baulk at missing passages and the truncated ending; especially the absence of Romeo’s fight with Paris before Juliet’s tomb in a final ironic twist. Yet I think director Rich Rusk adds more power to the tragic romance by his judicious pruning of less relevant passages that detract from the main plot.
The puppets’ uncanny mimicry of human expressions and movements are utilised as they are used to stand-in for the play’s authoritative figures, which makes these characters more powerfully haunting. However, there are two exceptions: C-3PO lookalike Paris, and Juliet’s foster-mother, Nurse, who flutters tiny wings perhaps to forge a connection to Cupid and strengthen the play’s love theme.
Even if you know nothing about Romeo and Juliet and its ‘pair of star-cross’d lovers’ (Pro, line 6) , you will still be swept along by the breathless pace of Night Light Theatre’s production, laugh at the unmistakeable culture-crossing humour and gasp at the grotesque puppets. There is never a boring moment because the cast perform as a fluid organic whole (I do not know their names as there is no program that adds to the impression of intense group work rather than praising individuals), which continually separates and regroups to keep the audience gripped. The concentration on choreographed movement enables swords to be replaced by psychic power – twitching hands, blue lights emanating from wrists and vocalised sound effects create bloodless and visually pleasing battles as bodies writhe and limbs are raised in response to ‘psychic’ control.
I hope Night Light Theatre return to the Contact Theatre, Manchester soon. For their next performance The Tempest would be ideal because the play already has an emphasis on magic, the power of the imagination and other worldly strangeness – a monstrous Prospero puppet would certainly be a highlight.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. 1597-99. Ed. Brian Gibbons. Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1997.
—. The Tempest. 1611. Eds Virginia Mason Vaughan & Alden T. Vaughan. London: Arden Shakespeare, 1999.