Before I begin this review, I would like to clarify, as James Beagon (co-director and actor) did at the start of the show, that Aulos Productions’ Shakespeare Catalysts is a work in progress. Beagon describes the show as ‘one big experiment’ and one the company welcomes audience feedback from after the show; the show we saw today is slightly different from the one they performed yesterday due to discussions they had with the audience afterwards, and tomorrow’s show will be different again. The play is not a series of scenes from Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, as I expected, but in fact takes some of these works to create a new narrative, and repurposes some more famous passages so they’re seen in a new light.
Thus far, I would consider their experiment to be a success.
The narrative begins with Juliet (Sophie Harris) and her son, as she reminisces about when she was married and tries to fix her tape player. When it is fixed we are taken back in time to when she first met Romeo (Daniel Orejon) and when their relationship began, but this is not the Shakespeare play as we know it. Set in our world, in the 1980s onwards as shown through the use of songs and news reports during the change of scenes, Romeo and Juliet take part in political rallies, using Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech, and eventually Juliet emerges as a Thatcher-esque female Tory, with scenes from Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and others making very apt political commentary. The narrative is not all politics, however, and remains focussed on the relationship between the couple as it deteriorates. Harris and Orejon have excellent onstage chemistry and play off of each other well, as well as, in Orejon’s case, portraying Romeo’s physical deterioration through illness. Beagon should also be commended for his versatility, taking on roles as the son, the Speaker of the House, and Eros, the doctor. The three have worked well together, not just onstage but in jointly devising and directing the piece.
The use of a wide variety of Shakespeare’s plays, from Antony and Cleopatra to Cymbeline, helps to elevate the narrative from a simple reworking of just Romeo and Juliet, and the use of familiar pieces in a new context, such as lines from the balcony scene when Juliet leaves Romeo – ‘O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’ – show not only the versatility of the scenes but also how cleverly the cast have worked together in creating a new narrative. For the most part the scenes flow together well, although it was a little uncertain when the first narrative of Juliet and her son ended and the second, with her past relationship with Romeo, began. I look forward to seeing how the team will further develop this piece in future; thus far, I would consider their experiment to be a success.