Shakespeare famously ripped off Romeo and Juliet from another poet, who borrowed it from a Frenchman, who jacked it from an Italian — and we’ve been merrily hacking away at it ever since. Which raises an obvious question: if we can slice and dice the script, why not the characters?
The Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre gleefully does precisely that during this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, running madly through the text while a chainsaw-wielding maniac butchers most of Verona. It’s a showcase for some of Fringe’s top comedians, an above-average Shakespeare adaptation in its own right, and (OBLIGATORY PUN INCOMING) a bloody good time.
Even if you haven’t touched Romeo and Juliet in years, you know enough to follow the text: sword fights, clandestine weddings, teenaged love, exile, death, yada yada yada. The company have cut most of the text, and that’s fine: dead characters can’t read soliloquies. The remainder is a jumble of the original words with modern asides and remarks thrown in to keep things moving.
The trouble is that the audience, and the performers, seemed way more into the funny stuff than the original text. And, I mean, that’s understandable: both the audience and the performers are clearly in the room for the chainsaws, so let’s give ’em what they want. But it means that, on the one hand, the energy seemed to sag during lengthy segments of the original text; and on the other, the actors often rushed to get through the boring stuff, which meant that — even sitting in the front row — I couldn’t understand large parts of what was being said.
Once the show revs up (bzzzzZZZZZZZZZ) and we move from exposition into the meat of the enterprise, everything gets better, tighter, snappier and deadlier. You’ll sit up straighter every time Sarite Harris (the Nurse) walks onto the stage, hang onto Nicholas Porteous (Romeo)’s every word, and admire how the Capulets (Rebecca Perry as Lady Capulet; Brittany Kay as Juliet) do great stuff with some of Shakespeare’s most stilted scenes.
Costume designer Gwyneth Barton has surprises up every sleeve, Andrew Clemens’ sounds — especially his playful musical choices — contribute a lot to the fun of the experience, and fight choreographer Scott Emerson Moyle’s design for the tomb scene is an incredible piece of work, worth the price of admission all on its own.
But this is a team effort, and it shows in the fact that every single part of this production is better when the people involved get to play together. My highlights — the balcony scene, the climax, the moments between Lady Capulet and Juliet — are all occasions when the actors get to play with each other, reinforced by active design and directorial choices that really make these moments pop.
At its best, Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre is a hell of a lot more than the sum of its parts. It’s gory, it’s funny, and the payoff at the end is worth a little bumpiness at the beginning. See this show.
- Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre plays at the Randolph Theatre. (736 Bathurst St)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warnings: Realistic Violence or Gore, Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a ramp at the building’s northwest corner. Please arrive early and ask to speak with the House Manager.
- Sunday July 3rd, 07:00 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 03:15 pm
- Thursday July 7th, 09:15 pm
- Friday July 8th, 02:15 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 11:30 pm
- Sunday July 10th, 05:15 pm
Photograph of Romeo (Nicholas Porteous), Juliet (Brittany Kay) and The Chainsaw-Wielding Maniac (NO SPOILERS!!!) by Lindsay Jenner.