News > Spoleto 2015 Review: Romeo and Juliet

Art Mag’s exclusive Spoleto Festival coverage


Samuel Valentine and Cassie Layton as Romeo and Juliet

The essential Shakespearean romance-tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, has come to Charleston, courtesy Spoleto Festival USA and the Globe. Shakespeare’s Globe. As a lifelong fan of Shakespeare, perennially trapped in the colonies, seeing a production by the Bard’s own Globe is a dream come true.

The success of this production lies in the strength of the words, supported by the stripped down costuming and set design that allowed the earnest, humorous dialogue to shine brightest.



l to r, Romeo, Lady Capulet, and Juliet

The evening opened and closed with a raucous musical number that featured the entire cast singing and playing instruments like the guitar, accordion, saxophone, tambourine, and an enthusiastic single cymbal. The curtain was already open before the performance, which allowed the cast to walk up and down the aisles prior to the show’s start and afforded audience members a chance to interact with the cast. It also offered a good look at the simple costumes of white shirts and light khaki pants, suspenders or belts around the waist that housed daggers, and tattoos. The actors added more festive garb when necessary for revelry or defining their character, a helpful tool since some actors played multiple roles, in this stripped down, touring version. The most complex element of the costume design were prominent tattoos each actor sported, one of the defining trends of the modern hipster.

The set design was simple, minimal, just the perfect catalyst for all the necessary scenes. The pace was quick, often having scenes occur simultaneously, which added dimension to the action and drew stronger comparisons between our lovers, as they both struggled with love and its challenges.

As a fellow audience member noted after the performance, “At first I thought Juliet was weak, but she kept getting better and better,” she said. She speaks with authority, as a Spoleto Directors Emeriti Circle, Benefactor, and Orchestra Sponsor.  She also spoke very highly of the Charlie Chaplin City Lights with Spoleto Festival Orchestra.


Cassie Layton as Juliet

Juliet was played by Cassie Layton, a young actress recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), who had longed to portray this exceptional role. She did seem rather weak at first, as it wont to happen between the overbearing characters of Lady Capulet and the Nurse, the kind of ladies who occupy a whole room on their own, let alone when they occupy the same space.

The Nurse, played by Sarah Higgins, was everything you could hope for and more, with her hilarious banter–even if it was often unintelligible to the American ear. The production was quite funny, thanks to the Nurse, the mercurial Mercutio, the dopey Peter and Paris, despite the general gloominess of the lovelorn Romeo and the mutual knowledge of impending teen suicide.


l to r, Romeo, Friar Laurence, and Juliet

Samuel Valentine played a sunnier Romeo, and a delightfully non-traditional one, at least by American standards. Aptly-named Valentine is a handsome redheaded fellow, whereas most productions seem to cast a tall-and-dark sort for the star-cross’d male (which makes sense on second thought, since they’re supposed to be residents of Verona, Italy). Another recent graduate of RADA, he already boasts a resume of stage and screen and radio.


Steffan Donnelly as Mercutio

There is literally no way to rightfully finish this review without mentioning Steffan Donnelly, the mercurial Mercutio, Prince, and Apothecary. Nevermind that City Paper put him on the cover of this past week’s issue, Donnelly was the measurably the biggest presence on stage at any given time. He seemed equally at home in the bawdy role of Mercutio as in the imperious character of the Prince. As the brooding and brawling Mercutio, he spins winding tales of nonsensical aimed at both ridiculing Romeo’s unrequited love and distracting him from it, even if only for a moment. He dispensed decisive yet lenient judgement as the Prince, and reminded all to put away useless old grudges, lest they manifest in lamentable, irreversible results.

17286064146_e0b2a1b2fa_bLady Capulet and Lady Monague were excellent foils to their Lords, but by far the strongest character of the older generation was Lord Capulet, played by Steven Elder, whose tyrannical rant after Juliet refused the offer of marriage to Paris inspired real fear. Juliet cowered below him, his fury forcing her into a tiny ball downstage that reminded of a cowering dog threatened by its owner.

Shakespeare’s Globe put on a wonderful production of Romeo & Juliet, and there are plenty more opportunities to catch a performance at the lovely and historic Dock Street Theatre. Put this on your ‘Go’ list and get ready to rekindle your love affair with Shakespeare.

Upcoming performances: May 27, 28, 29, 31, June 1, 3, 4, 6, & 7  Tickets

words: Stacy Huggins
images: Helena Miscioscia, courtesy Spoleto Festival USA

Posted on May 26, 2015 by admin.

Categories: Performing Arts, Review

Tags: Cassie Layton, Dock Street Theatre, Globe Theatre, Romeo And Juliet, Samuel Valentine, Sarah Higgins, Shakespeare's Globe, Spoleto, Spoleto 2015, Spoleto Festival, Spoleto Festival Usa, Steffan Donnelly, Steven Elder, Theatre, William Shakespeare

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