The story of Romeo and Juliet receives medical treatment in Cepacia from Durham School and Shadow Dreams. A boarding school and a foster home constitute the houses of Montague and Capulet, though in this case they are hardly ‘alike in dignity.’ Jen and Alex are two teenagers who suffer from cystic fibrosis. Jen lives in care having escaped an abusive stepfather; Alex studies at Eton and is desperately in need of a lung transplant. The star-crossed lovers communicate online, but can never meet in person since, due to low immunity, patients of the condition are at high risk of cross-infection from bacteria, such as cepacia. However, Jen’s birthday is approaching and Alex longs more than anything to celebrate with her. Written by Stephen Cronin, a paediatrician, this moving drama conveys a desire to be young, wild and free whilst shackled by terminal illness.
The addition of cystic fibrosis never feels sensationalist
The addition of cystic fibrosis into the love story never feels sensationalist. A clever use of physical theatre plays out the tedium of swallowing vast numbers of pills everyday. Though volume could be improved during dialogue, all the performers show great sensitivity to the condition and attention to minor details, such as coughing and breathlessness, proves powerful. Cepacia also takes on an educational dimension thanks to a large screen at the back of the stage which shows X-ray photographs and oxygen capacities. Wheeled blocks allow the scenes to be transitioned smoothly. This is particularly effective as we see Jen and Alex’s lives in parallel for much of the performance.
The production creates an emotive sense of intimacy between the teenagers chatting through their laptops. With little more than a reading light to illuminate these scenes, it seems that we have entered their private sanctuary. Cystic fibrosis chatrooms give sufferers of the condition a personal connection that they lack with others in their day to day lives. Further scenes of Alex and Jen talking alone online could have benefitted the performance as the relationship was given limited stage time to fully blossom before its climax on Jen’s birthday.
With a talented young cast at its helm, Cepacia is a fresh and exciting piece. Through Cronin’s perceptive script, Shakespeare’s timeless love story adopts powerful relevance in a new scenario. Somehow, the tragedy feels twice as devastating.