The general concept of the play attracted me to watch it - I had never seen a stage production of the sequel to Romeo and Juliet so I was already inclined to enjoy After Juliet. It was great for Shakespeare fans to see some familiar faces in the role of Benvolio Montague, along with some completely new characters such as several cousins of Romeo and Juliet who had differing yet complementary personalities. Generally, the character development of each role was well-established; in particular, the double act of Lorenzo and his brother Gianni were a comedic addition to the play, offering more light-hearted moments in contrast to Rosaline's (Mary Butler) emotional monologues. On the other hand, the roles of Bianca and Helena could have been more confidently presented in order to add individuality to the characters.
After Juliet had several positives which pulled the play together and entertained the audience. On a basic theatrical level, the set was imaginative with Italian fresco-like paintings hung on the walls and helped transport the acting to Verona. The scene transitions were also smooth, leaving little (if any) pause between the dialogue/ acting so the rate of action was fast-paced and exciting. The part of Rosaline was especially acted with pure emotional and talent by Mary Butler. Her character story was captivating and it was satisfying to see her develop over the course of the play - Rosaline's monologue at Juliet's grave was the peak of her confidence and, more generally, the talented acting amongst the cast. Similarly, the other protagonist, Valentine (Laurie Purnell-Prynn) was also a remarkable force in the play; with his black leather coat and stern facial expressions, he was a welcome source of contention on stage for the audience. His aggressive interactions with Benvolio (Jamie Sayers) reflected the boiling feeling of turmoil and rage – despite both being Montagues – and mirrored the family tensions between Rosaline and Petruchio (Joe Rooke). The intra-Capulet fight for power marked the peak of After Juliet and the actors skilfully created a mood of tension and betrayal.
On the other hand, there were a few things which let the play down, but can be easily corrected after opening night. Most importantly, there issues with staging as; with such a unique stage layout in the Corpus Playroom, it is essential for directors to watch their play from all angles to ensure that audience members are not cut off from the action. However, many interactions between main characters were acted to one another, rather than angled outwards toward the audience. In one case, Valentine’s umbrella obscured his facial expressions for a whole scene; this could be effortlessly solved by placing the umbrella in his other hand. Also, the mad scenes of Bianca-Juliet, although an interesting twist to the play, simply fell flat because the joint speeches were under-rehearsed. Rather than attempting to coordinate the pace of (and pauses in) a monologue between two people, the lines should have been split between Bianca and Juliet so that the petit mal seizures are more effective.
Overall, it was an enjoyable play which offered a different perspective to the traditional Romeo and Juliet story. Particular attention was paid to the character development of the protagonists which proved to be a major strength of the play. Having said this, there were a few shortfalls with staging and the Bianca-Juliet seizures which can be worked on for tonight's performance!
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