A CLASSIC tale of doomed romance, Romeo and Juliet is usually performed with Romeo as the protagonist. But a new all-woman production of The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet at fortyfivedownstairs puts Juliet front and centre, focusing on her attempt to navigate through the perils and pitfalls of high-octane teenage dreams.
Brigid Gallacher steps into the role of Capulet’s daughter, while her five female colleagues each take a turn at playing Romeo Montague, as well as embracing all the other characters.
“It’s a psychological examination of the character of Juliet, focusing on the female experience behind the story,” says director Zoey Dawson. “We wanted to explore the idea that she’s just 13, and what that says about the text if placed in contemporary society. What that would mean if a 13-year-old girl met a boy at a party and four days later killed herself?”
It’s an intriguing concept that plays with the timelessness of the drama, particularly given the sharp focus on the causes of teenage suicide in recent years.
“Romantic mythology has so much to answer for,” Dawson says. “I first encountered Romeo and Juliet around Juliet’s age when I saw [film director] Baz Luhrmann’s version. I cried and cried, thought it was so beautiful and so tragic, but it perhaps gives young women unrealistic expectations of love and romantic relationships. It’s like the Cinderella story; what happens after they get married?”
Dawson argues that Juliet’s monologues are the most powerful, so the play lends itself well to a feminist take. “She’s always asking questions, trying to figure out what to do with the situations she finds herself in. She really does become the main protagonist, mapping out her journey.”
It’s not all heavy, though. “I want to make something that challenges our social values and moral stigmatism on young women, but I want it to be hugely enjoyable, funny and playful,’’ Dawson says. ‘‘It works on different levels. My actresses are very brave and energetic and give a lot of themselves.”