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British director Tim Carroll. (Erin Samuell)
British director Tim Carroll. (Erin Samuell)

Stratford goes back in time with ‘Original Practices’ Romeo and Juliet Add to ...

British director Tim Carroll is known for his “Original Practices” productions at the reconstructed outdoor Globe Theatre in London – that is, Shakespeare productions that attempt to present his plays as close as possible to how they would have been originally presented. Carroll’s recent Twelfth Night in that style – starring Tony winner Mark Rylance as Olivia – was nominated for four Olivier Awards.

Now, Carroll has brought Original Practices to Ontario’s Stratford Festival, where he is directing the opening show of the season, Romeo and Juliet, as if it were an afternoon performance at an outdoor Elizabethan playhouse.

Will this bring Stratford’s audiences closer to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers as they were originally intended? Or does the approach – considered sexist, racist and reactionary by some critics – risk turning Romeo and Juliet into no more than moving mannequins in a museum exhibit? The Globe and Mail sat down with Carroll to challenge him on a controversial approach.

Directing Shakespeare as it was done in Elizabethan times, to me, makes about as much sense as going to a barber to get your dentistry done today. Why turn to the techniques of the past?

It’s not necessarily a question of trying to find ancient techniques, so much as trying to invite the audience into an imaginative leap so that we place the play in the world when it was written and for which it was written – and see how much of it comes alive by that method.

Your production of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford will not be fully Original Practices, right?

Original Practices when we do it at the Globe means as far as possible not doing anything we know Shakespeare wouldn’t have done. It’s a very exciting and playful and imagination-feeding game. One of the restrictions it gives us at the Globe is to cast no women – that’s one that we haven’t employed here.

So what have you employed?

What we have employed is not just trying to use old-ey England-ey costuming, but real Elizabethan clothes to the extent we can make them – and real Elizabethan etiquette of bowing and wearing swords.

There were no directors in Shakespeare’s time. Isn’t therefore directing a show in Original Practices fundamentally a contemporary approach?

It certainly is. In real Original Practices, we should get rid of me altogether, but of course the point about any imaginative reconstruction is that we don’t start from the same place they did. We have to train in order to get back to something they did. Even to say “get back” suggests a backward step – I don’t think it’s a backward step.

You’re staging your Romeo and Juliet as if it were at an outdoor Elizabethan playhouse. Can you explain how the outdoor lighting will work indoors?

The real discovery for me working at the Globe was shared light – having the audience visible to the actors and sharing the light with them makes a huge difference to the energy. It means that the audience are in no doubt that they are, as the French would say, “assisting” at the performance, not just observing it.

Have you looked at farmers’ almanacs from the time to find out what the weather would have been like?

No, but Kevin Fraser, the lighting designer, has duplicated or recreated in his lighting the changes of light that you naturally get over the course of an afternoon. He has a mixture of lighting changes that reflect the passage of time – and other random lighting changes which aren’t planned to go at any point, but could happen at any time.

So the lighting will be slightly different with every performance?

Yes, as it is at the Globe, where you have gloomy days and sunny days.

Why not present the play as it was at Blackfriars, an indoor theatre of Shakespeare’s time, or at its court performances?

I also like the Blackfriars model. When we moved Twelfth Night and Richard III from the Globe to the Apollo [in the West End], we decided we would make it an indoor banqueting hall conceit – as though it was being done by candlelight. I went for this way of doing Romeo and Juliet, because, as an early play, it’s very clearly an outdoor play.

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