This year there are (at least) five productions of Romeo and Juliet at the fringe. When a show is trying to trying to add a little more Fringe pizazz to a familiar show or property, they usually turn it into either a musical or a one-man show. Enter Rob McGlade. Armed with only a guitar, he chose to try and condense the usual “two hours traffic” of Shakespeare’s classic into 50 minutes.
The first thing to say is that this is not a musical. By no stretch of the imagination or by the most generous of definitions is this a musical. It is best described as a concert. McGlade’s performance consists of him standing on the stage and singing lines taken straight from the play. No pauses, no dialogue, no dancing. Just singing and guitar playing. Now, one may call this a cabaret performance if the lyrics had been discernable, and if McGlade had performed the lyrics more. It may seem like nitpicking, but subtle differences like that are what give musicals and cabarets their sense of theatricality. Without them, it amounts to little more than a pub performance, whatever the lyrics are.
Even calling it Romeo and Juliet is perhaps a push. As far as I’m concerned the mark of a good adaptation of a classic is that it can connect with a newcomer and still hold interest for someone who has seen it many times before. Someone who had not seen or read the play before would be utterly lost as to what was happening or its significance. Even I, who has seen the play roughly three and a half times and studied it in university, struggled to keep up.
To top it off, McGlade gives the distinct impression that he would sooner stand on burning coals than on the stage. The songs themselves aren’t necessarily bad, they have a Mumford and Sons quality to them with a touch of Radiohead at the edgier parts of the play like the “A Plague on Both Your Houses” scene. But this is not the right place for them. The longer it takes for the audience to get to the dramatic deaths of the star-crossed lovers, the more apparent it is that this adaptation is dead on arrival. One star.
Whispers from the crowd:
“It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
“My mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say that I shouldn’t say anything at all. He was a very good guitarist.”