Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A quite unique interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic love story presented by an accomplished and gifted composer/singer.
Shakespeare is regarded as the ultimate in bendable playwrights and adaptations abound every year up here in Edinburgh. But this one bends just about every expectation that both Bard aficionados and lovers of music and musical theatre might have had about Romeo and Juliet.
And it’s definitely the first musical adaptation I’ve seen that relies (aside from a few repeats) exclusively on the original text, thus remaining true to the story whist examining pretty much every character and exchange along the way. So, hats off to Rob McGlade, a writer and performer of a wide range of musical adaptations of classical literature ranging from James Joyce, Dante, John Keats to Franz Kafka and now one William Shakespeare.
Clutching my superbly produced and illustrated complete set of the lyrics as I entered, I’d barely parked my backside on the comfortable seats of theSpaceUK’s delightful Surgeons Hall when McGlade burst into song with that famous opening stanza. Fifty minutes later, he was still going, utterly captivated by his own composition, the story and the text, delivering that denouement with real tenderness and pathos.
Now, I’m assuming that most of you interested in attending this sort of show know the plot of R&J but it doesn’t matter if you don’t – you’ve got that lovely booklet of lyrics to guide you along. And it does come in handy from time to time as this is a performance that steams along at a great pace, pausing only briefly for a couple of bits of retuning.
McGlade’s performance is never less than intense, emotive and passionate. Striding around the stage, he never once gave the indication that there was anyone else in the room but himself. Whilst that might detract from most performances of a tender love story like Romeo and Juliet, here it actually enhances the experience. Each member of the audience seemed to disappear, like McGlade, into their own little bubble, totally absorbed in the music and words resonating around us. It’s a sort of Indie meets iambic pentameter experience, with the occasional trance like state thrown in from a performer who truly understands the words he’s delivering.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a treat for true Shakespeare devotees, this isn’t going to appeal to everyone but it’s a daring interpretation of a play that has been re-staged and re-imagined by just about everyone in the theatre business. With one instrument and one singer it can’t always capture the emotion inherent in parts of the play but it comes darned close. And you certainly won’t see this being performed by anyone else at the Fringe, or anywhere else come to that as there’s no musical score. The entire fifty-minute composition sits inside McGlade’s head and is simply played from memory each evening. Daring indeed, this is work that deserves to be seen.