Shakespeare's
R&J

Presented in association with the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Adaptation: Joe Calarco

Direction, Set & Lighting Design: Fred Abrahamse

Costume Design: Marcel Meyer

Photography: Fiona MacPherson, Pat Bromilow-Downing & Sean Bennet

2011 Cast: Marcel Meyer, James MacGregor, Rory Acton-Burnell, Alistair Moulton Black

2019 Revival Cast: Matthew Baldwin, Taylin Ramsamy, Dean Balie, Jeremy Richard

Venues:  National Arts Festival, Grahamstown [2011] Fugard Studio Theatre [2011], The Brooklyn Theatre, Pretoria [2011], Wits Theatre, Johannesburg [2011], Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre [2019]

About: Joe Calarco’s brilliant re-imagining of Shakespeare’s timeless tale of two adolescent star-crossed lovers. Set in an exclusive boarding school, four pupils discover an illicit copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and start acting it out. Perceptions and understandings are turned upside down as the fun of play acting turns serious and the words and meanings begin to hit home and universal truths emerge.

What the Press said:

“Joe Calarco's R&J revitalises this classic romantic tragedy with wisdom and acuity; it should be mandatory viewing for young theatregoers. This astonishing production of Romeo and Juliet gives courage to local theatre. This quality of young Shakespeareans on our stages refutes any belief that work ethic and skill in South Africa is dwindling...this immensely satisfying play is up there amongst the best this country has seen in a long while. Its focus on youthful relevance serves to highlight the tragedy conveyed by Shakespeare in 1595; its tight-knittedness lends it accessibility and mobility. It deserves packed house upon packed house.” ARTSLINK

 

“It is sometimes debated — often among young people — what relevance Shakespeare has to SA in the here and now. This is why passionate young thespians, such as Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer, who are hell-bent on making Shakespeare daring, modern, exciting and topical, deserve some sort of a special award. These characters are teenagers, like the star-cross’d lovers of the tale. And, like most teenagers — regardless of the era — they experience the constant tussle between instinct and indoctrination, conformity and personal freedom. The genius of the play lies in its seamless weaving of these sub-themes into the text, exposing how those who do not slot in with society’s expectations are victimised and made to feel like outsiders. In a country where lesbians are subjected to "corrective rape", how can we possibly say a play about avoidable tragedies is not relevant? Abrahamse and his brave young cast — Meyer, James MacGregor, Rory Acton Burnell and Alistair Moulton Black — should be applauded for bringing a new, synapse-firing incarnation of a well-known text to local audiences. This is no giddy tale of teenage love and pouting angst: it is a rather grave, contemplative and unsettling yet compelling reflection on how dangerous and damaging forced conformity can be.”  BUSINESS DAY

 

“Brilliant…electrifying…excellent…heart-stopping…This is one of the most engrossing love stories ever to grace a South African stage. The cast of four deliver Shakespeare’s lines rivetingly and flawlessly…this production portrays all the hot-blooded emotion – the elation, the initial delicious buzz of deviating from family and society’s expectations, the heartbreak, fury, and desperation – for which any full-scale staging of Romeo and Juliet should strive. As a fresh, contemporary take on a 400-year old love story, this version of Shakespeare’s R&J is utterly captivating.” CUE

 

 “Joe Calarco’s Shakespeare’s R&J, an all-male adaptation, gives a new nuance to an established text. Calarco retells the story using the original text, with uniform-clad boys assuming all the parts. Ultimately, they reveal the magical ways in which Shakespeare’s words resonate even with these adolescent boys overwhelmed by a forbidden sexual attraction to each other. To single out a particular performance in this ensemble collaboration would be inappropriate. All are outstanding...Fred Abrahamse directs in a way which made me realise this story is not about the melodrama of love or about feuding families. It is about the expression of one’s purest passions against all odds. Like Shakespeare that quest is timeless” THE SUNDAY TIMES

 

“The delivery of the lines was excellent, intelligent and natural...I have always considered that Romeo and Juliet is underplayed in terms of sheer, raw, rampant teenaged hormones out of control. The repression of the sexuality in the single sex Catholic school was far more believable than is usual in more familiar interpretations and the underlying sexual tension very moving...the production brought a wonderful theatricality to Shakespeare's famous love story. It allowed the four century old words to live in glorious and relevant technicolour. That is what it is all about: a triumphant success!” ARTSLINK

 

“At its best, theatre should both challenge and entertain. Joe Calarco’s Shakespeare’s R&J certainly does so on both counts. It is an innovative rendition, in which a more contemporary story is superimposed on the original work. However, it takes more than a clever idea to make good theatre. This production certainly makes the most of Shakespeare’s R&J dramatic potential. The cast is an exceptionally talented team; their interaction is outstanding. Whether the cast is called upon to recite a sonnet or blank verse, they excel. They refuse to be intimidated by some of the intricacies of Shakespeare’s writing or by the demands of Elizabethan English. The words roll off their tongues effortlessly. Fred Abrahamse, who directed the play, also deserves considerable credit for their performance. He has tackled Shakespeare often before, and brings a wealth of insight and experience to the production. This unconventional retelling of Shakespeare’s tale is magnificently brought to life by a cast that is an absolute joy to watch.” THE CAPE TIMES

 

NALEDI THEATRE AWARDS 2020:

 

Best Ensemble – Shakespeare’s R&J [nomination]

 

Best Set Design – Fred Abrahamse [nomination]

 

Best Costume Design – Marcel Meyer [nomination]