In January 2007 I sat down and wrote my first ever post on this blog about a production of Romeo and Juliet. I did not say good things. So, while I sat in the darkened Little Theatre last night, listening to the music and waiting for the show to begin, I had trepidations. What if it was going to be horrible?

The lights came up and I didn’t think it again. This is a totally cool production! What a relief! And what a good job UCT Drama School.

Jacqui Singer directs this huge cast of students in an absolutely watchable, totally understandable, fast paced, moving, stylish production of one of Shakespeare’s most loved, most put on and most quoted plays. To start with, the director has done a most excellent job of cutting the play. Slashed to ribbons, but with all of the important stuff still there, it was a fast paced, just over two hour Shakespeare. Totally manageable for the students, the public audience (on a stinker of a hot night the Little Theatre aircon was like a gift from the gods) and friends and family of the young cast.

The set, designed by Daniel Galloway, is clever and effective; a series of platforms, balconies and walkways, giving the students an excellent opportunity to be physical and interesting, and allowing for small intimate scenes and huge spectacle ones too. Daniel also designed the lights, which looked great.

The costumes, by Leigh Bishop were completely amazing. Everybody looked brilliant in an eclectic mix of old, new, soft and flowing, leather, traditional Elizabethan elements, stylish and trendy. I thought that Romeo, Juliet, Lady Capulet, Mercutio and Tybalt (with all those tattoos) looked brilliant, and Nurse’s costume was a highlight.

And now to the students. I have to say I was mostly pretty damn impressed! I think that Jacqui has worked so thoroughly and generously with them and, although some are head and shoulders better than others, they deliver performances that are filled with integrity and energy. They also deliver on character. Yes, some of them spoke too fast or too softly, some of them slammed about or disappeared, but that’s just like any Shakespeare; heavy on very talented leads, and bit parts that aren’t the best. I am going to single out my favourite favourites.

Romeo, played by James MacGregor, is gorgeous. I really loved his performance. He was the most present, unaffected, young love-sincere Romeo I have seen (and I was swept back to my childhood and how deeply in love I was with Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo played by Leonard Whiting. Oh that bum.) MacGregor keeps all his clothes on and still manages to give us a sexy young thing. He is great. Juliet (played by Rosa Whitcher last night) was also fabulous, in a very different way. She captured Juliet’s teenage youth, and her performance was so natural and unaffected. Her balcony scene was excellent. Mercutio, played by Keeran Blessie, was also great. His swish, camp, articulate and passionate interpretation was magnetic. I loved lady Capulet, played last night by Inke Jaroszynski, who was totally convincing as someone so much older. I also loved Benvolio, played by Glen Biederman-Pam, who had brilliant moments in a largely thankless role, and I loved Friar Laurence, played by Malefane Mosuhli, who was intense and genuine and lovely.

But it was the shining performance of Lerato Motshwarako as the nurse that stole my heart. Yo, that chick can mos act hey? She has got it. In chunks. She was the best part of Macbeki last year, and again, here she radiates in a character older than her by about twenty years, who is funny, touching, quaint, old fashioned, human, and just, huge. Bravo Lerato, you are going places. And the best part is, when you leave drama school you’ll get a chance to play those young leads too!

Lest I sound like a sycophant, let me mention the two things that got on my nerves. I got irritated by the blackouts. Every five minutes there was another one. Let’s rather see those changes and have a blackout at the end, especially since the pace is so good with all those cuts. And then there are those goddamn boots. Please UCT Drama School wardrobe, please, get rid of those big black, knee length boots that need to be hidden away and brought out only for Nazis or Woycheck. Firstly, they make an actor’s legs go all funny and they have to take those ridiculous goose stepping strides. Secondly, they are so mind crashingly loud on that wooden stage. Thirdly, they look so poncy and out of place. I hate those boots!

Let me not dwell on silliness. Good sword fighting (although I always like a bit of blood), excellent crowd scenes, and lovely in between scenes music help make this a fab production of R & J. If you see one Shakespeare this year, choose this one.