Guild Festival Theatre’s contemporary production of Romeo & Juliet at the Greek Stage in Guild Park has a slew of commendable performances and impressively high production values, especially considering that it’s set outdoors.
The evening began with an introduction to the history of Guild Park and the sad news that the founder of Guild Festival Theatre recently passed away. Some of the long-time patrons may have heard the spiel already, but my companion and I really appreciated this touch as this was the first time we had visited the park.
Unfortunately, both of us also agreed that the beginning of the production lacked energy and some of the performances felt strangely stiff. There were still a few early stand-outs however: Emilio Vieira was utterly compelling as the jovial Benvolio and Gordon Gresko ably provided comic relief as the servant Peter.
Despite a slightly lackluster start, the entire production picked up as soon as Jovan Kocic’s Romeo met Lindsey Middleton’s Juliet; their off-the-charts chemistry seemed to rejuvenate every preceding scene. Kocic and Middleton’s performances in the famous balcony scene had the perfect blend of youthful passion and awkwardness, and it was hard to take your eyes off them whenever they were onstage together.
The relationships within the Capulet and Montague familial groups also became more and more convincing as the production continued. There was great camaraderie and humour between Middleton’s Juliet and Laura Meadows’s Nurse, and the friendship of the charming Montague boys was appealingly played by Vieira, Kocic, and Marcus Bernacci as Mercutio.
While this is not the first time that Romeo and Juliet had been set in contemporary times, I thought there were many directorial choices that made this version especially successful. Kocic and Middleton not only looked the part, but director Jamie Robinson smartly drew inspiration from familiar modern-day teenage archetypes for characterization (Romeo is re-envisioned as an “emo hipster,” complete with hangover-hiding sunglasses). Even though the speech was written centuries ago, almost every character in the play still felt like someone you could find walking down a street in Toronto.
Additionally, many of the hidden comedic wordplays were nicely highlighted by Robinson through a few exaggerated gestures and the large but beautiful space was always creatively used.
Although some of the fighting choreography felt a little repetitive to me and the musical mash-ups could’ve been better mixed, Amanda Wong also did some great work with colour-coordinated costuming and Amanda Gougeon’s lighting design effectively complimented the scenic mood, especially during the emotional second act. But best of all, despite the white noise from insects and wind, I could still hear almost every word.
Finally, I must warn the Shakespeare enthusiasts that this production is condensed. While there were a few cuts that seemed iffy to my companion, most of the plot was preserved.
- Romeo & Juliet is playing until August 9th at the Greek Stage at Guild Park & Gardens (201 Guildwood Pkwy).
- Shows run Wednesday to Sunday at 7:30pm, with an additional matinee on Sundays at 2:00pm.
- Ticket prices range from $20 – $25 and are available online, through telephone at 416-915-6750 (Visa or Mastercard only), or in person 30 minutes before showtime (cash only). Children under 12 are FREE.
- This is an outdoor show. Please call (416) 265-2934 or visit their Facebook for any weather updates.
- Only portable toilets are available onsite.
Photo of Jovan Kocic and Lindsey Middleton by Raph Nogal.