British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database
Romeo and Juliet (1992): Deconstruction Theatre Company, Baron's Court Theatre
PrRomeo and Juliet (1992)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Vernon Douglas (Mercutio); Heather Imani (Juliet); Marcia Mantack (Nurse); Kevin Neil (Tybalt); Christopher Toba (Romeo).
This production ran from 23 June - 1 August 1992.
The programme note provides the background to the play: "The concept of placing Shakespeare's plays on Nameless Island, off the coast of Africa in modern times, was created by Ronald Selwyn Phillips: Romeo and Juliet is the second in a series. The first play Othello was staged at this theatre in January 1992. It was a sell-out throughout its entire run and received superb reactions from both critics and audiences (our apologies to all those who were unable to obtain tickets as a result). For those who did not see Othello, it is only necessary to know that the original inhabitants of Nameless Island were a cultured black race with time-honoured traditions and strong moral values. They have flourished under their councils of Sultans and island nobles and their standard of living is high. Their language is a beautiful one and, when translated into English, bears a strong resemblance to the tongue of Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet takes place some years after the events depicted in Othello. The newly-arrived white communities on the island are growing in numbers and many of them have become happily absorbed into island life.....but there are exceptions to every rule and, therein, lies the modern tragedy of the feuding white Montagues and the black Capulets."
This production also toured to the Far East, according to Marcia Mantack's biography for the National Theatre of Scotland programme for The Bacchae.
"The Capulets are black, the Montagues white. David Evans Rees's lean and clean production is set on a place called Nameless Island somewhere off the coast of Africa. The blacks are the original inhabitants of this island, the whites are the turbulent newcomers. Christopher Toba's Romeo may lack the necessary fire, and Heather Imani's Juliet may make you long to get her teeth into Lady Macbeth, but their performances, like the rest of the cast, are strong and committed. A few liberties are taken with the text, but then that's been going on for as long as Shakespeare's been performed. There's something to be said for a production that enables you to hear certain lines for the first time. Alban Oliver's set makes efficient use of the tiny, columned stage: a simple white gossamer curtain drawn across a recessed wall with a platform that becomes everything from Juliet's bed to her tomb. The production's simplicity and stillness enhances the juggernaut Shakespeare sets in motion. Tragedy is inevitable. And this, after all, is the point. There are two productions of Romeo and Juliet in town. Go see this one." ~ Bonnie Greer, Time Out, 8 July 1992, in Theatre Record 1992, Issue 13
"The notion of setting Shakespeare's plays on a Caribbean island (this venue has recently seen a colour-reversed Othello) has not resulted in the crass imposition of a white Montague/black Capulet battleground. We must give thanks. Indeed, this community appears in racial harmony - immigrant whites apparently integrated - and it's a merry place to love and woo. Problem is, despite the odd textual insertion (the Nurse mutters 'since the white men came'), the setting needs further development if it is to engender tragedy and not remain simply a setting. The colourful smocks are pleasant on the eye, the Afro-Caribbean rhythms clear vigorous paths into the sense of the verse - especially in Marcia Mantuck's enjoyable performance as a big-bodied Nurse with a hearty cackle. But considerable cutting means we get the, ehrm, 'love plot' and little else. Mercutio (black) is reduced to a geezer who likes a laugh - Vernon Douglas bungles his death by overplaying the punning. Christopher Toba's wooden, oafish Romeo (white) has an indecipherable accent and seems more out of sorts with the production than with his love life." ~ Keith Stanfield, City Limits, 9 July 1992, in Theatre Record 1992, Issue 13
"Following in the style of their production of Othello earlier in the year, with an all black cast save for a white Othello, Romeo and Juliet is also updated and set on 'Nameless Island', a self-governing modern day Sultanate off the coast of Africa. A few years after the events depicted in Othello, the white community has grown in numbers to establish the feud between the white Montagues and the black Capulets. But this intelligent adaptation provides more than just chiaroscuro shading since much integration, especially among the younger generation, has already occurred as witnessed by Vernon Douglas' charismatic black Mercutio's friendship with a white Romeo. David Evans Rees' careful direction, making effective use of the confined space, ensures that each character retains their own identity and that family disagreements remain just as strong a barrier to peaceful unity as race. The generation gap is also emphasised through the costumes, where the young men sport their own individually coloured T-shirts and cycle shorts, while the elders opt for more traditional dress. This production's success lies in generating enormous life and humour which should result in a heightened sense of loss and tragedy in the later stages. Christopher Toba and Heather Imani present a fine pair of lovers struggling against the divide of race and personal prejudice, with his commanding presence as Romeo contrasted by her vulnerable, diminutive stature and fresh-faced innocence, which for once constitute a suitably young Juliet. However, the emotional pay-off is marred by her less than convincing conveying of distress at the unravelling events, which in spite of Damian Oliver's atmospheric half-lighting, is emphasised by the closeness of the audience on three sides of the simple, small white-washed set. The real revelation lies in Marcia Mantack's Nurse whose well-spoken natural delivery and huge, dominant personality constitute the production's engaging life-force." ~ Ian Dodd, What's On, 8 July 1992, in Theatre Record 1992, Issue 13
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