By: Fallon Mawhinney

This week, from March 8-12th, Vagabond Productions is staging a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The play’s director, Dr. Greg Doran, chose to set the stage in the heart of Belfast, during the Protestant/Catholic unrest. The result: fair Verona is exchanged for fair Belfast, ducats become pounds, and the Montagues become Catholic, while the Capulets take on Protestantism.

Doran displays the tension between the two sects in a costume dichotomy. The Catholics, that is, the Montagues, wear green somewhere in their costume, and the Protestants, the Capulets, display their heritage by sporting orange. The trend of the two colours is only broken for the play’s neutral characters, such as the watchmen, who become more akin to police officers, Paris, and the Friar Lawrence. The costumes reflect present-day clothing, with more affluent characters, such as Paris, wearing suits, while Balthazar and Benvelina (a female interpretation of Benvolio) wear street clothes and combat boots.

The play is staged at The Mount in Charlottetown, within the quiet chapel. The solemn backdrop is fitting for the religious tension within the play, and the director and cast creatively use the space. For example, rather than only using the stage in the front of the theatre, the cast moves up and down the aisles, running and fighting in the aisles, and standing, sitting and hiding in the pews. The result is a highly engaging play with a minimalist set.

Although the energy and time put into this production are evident through all of the performances, a few characters particularly stood out for their passion and creative interpretation. First, Mercutia, a female interpretation of the famous Mercutio, was played by Ashley MacLeod. Clad in a black leather jacket, dark lips, and with a constant bottle in her hand, MacLeod’s Mercutia lit up the chapel like a city girl in a country tavern. Her acting was unparalleled within the cast, and the audience was clearly drawn to her taboo vivacity. Mercutia’s famous last words, “A plague on both your houses!” echoed through the chapel, and took on a new meaning in that venue, with the stunned families of the two sects watching.

The other most notable character was that of Friar Lawrence. Played by T. Noah J. Nazim, the Friar’s vivid emotions and facial expressions provide some comic relief within the play, but more importantly offer a well-rounded, identifiable character. During the tense last scene, where both Romeo and Juliet lay dead, the Friar is struck by his part in their demise. His realization is gut-wrenching, as is his cry of despair.

The last point worth noting is the youthful chemistry between Kassinda Bulger’s Juliet and Dylan Gaudet’s Romeo. Their young love is fresh and clearly portrays an awakening for both of the characters. Of course, the play becomes darker, and I appreciated how Gaudet dissipated Romeo’s Irish schoolboy accent and mooning smiles through the play as he becomes more steeled to the violent feud between the two families.

This interpretation of Romeo and Juliet is truly unique, thanks to the director’s innovative setting and a fabulous cast of actors. Anyone interested in seeing the play can catch the show nightly from March 8-12th at The Mount,141 Mt Edward Road. Admission is at the door and by donation.