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This chapter is a reflection on my personal experience of attending Romeu e Julieta at the Globe on two occasions separated by a dozen years. I am an advocate of this production, and therefore its critic. Objectivity is sometimes thought necessary in criticism, but my responding motivation for this particular production arises precisely from an experience of powerful involvement in it. And any insight I have to offer derives from that same involvement. When I first saw Romeu e Julieta at the 2000 Globe to Globe Festival, I was a member of staff at the Globe. I remember sobbing uncontrollably at more than one point during that performance, and the wry smiles on the faces of favourite former colleagues I spotted in the same audience twelve years later told me that others remembered this too. Indeed, the return to the Globe of Romeu e Julieta in 2012 was for me a real reprise, a return to a beloved space, a pilgrimage to the scene of a cherished memory. And Romeu e Julieta is a production which understands and trades openly on the theatrical value of such feelings of nostalgia; it is a remarkable production in dialogue with the ghosts of its own past.
Grupo Galpão's work on Romeu e Julieta began in 1991. David S. George, who saw this production at the 1993 Festival de Curitiba in southern Brazil, praised the way the production ‘resurrected Shakespeare's play from the dust of accumulated romantic clichés to the delight and fascination of audiences and critics alike’. The same show has been in and out of production for nearly twenty years since that review, and with the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival/Globe to Globe season production coinciding with Grupo Galpão's thirtieth anniversary as a company, I wondered whether the UK press would this time hail Galpão as global theatre veterans, or dismiss them as yesterday's news. Maddy Costa's generally positive review for the Guardian had a single reservation: ‘There is much to admire in this production, but it is let down by a fundamental flaw.
The writings of theatre practitioners are letters from the chalk face rather than ‘theories’. Practitioners practise first, and make their discoveries on the studio or rehearsal-room floor in much the same way as the scientist conducts experiments in a laboratory. However, these are not as readily codifiable as a scientific experiment, where a mathematical equation may offer a solution to the problem. In theatre, experiments constitute a constant search which will never reach a quantifiable conclusion. Experiments may, however, reach a qualitative conclusion: ‘it works or it doesn’t’ is the maxim, where the measuring stick is an informed artistic sensibility.
I find Dymphna Callery’s confidence in the ‘informed artistic sensibility’ encouraging, because I am a theatre practitioner. I direct plays. In my parallel career as an academic working in the UK higher education sector, I have found that ‘letters from the chalk face’ such as Callery describes are included in a wider range of outputs and publications known collectively as ‘practice-as-research’. My own practice-as-research methodology typically takes three forms: firstly, I search for practical solutions to perceived challenges presented by textual, material and logistical elements of plays in production; secondly, I follow my own curiosity and desire to create something genuinely new, in productions that speak directly to their audiences; thirdly, I attempt to record and contextualize some of the discoveries made in the rehearsal room, in print publications. This particular ‘letter from the chalk face’ shares my experience and reflections on practice, rather than labouring with theory, but this is not to suggest that the substance of what follows is purely anecdotal and reflective. Rather, this article considers a range of playable solutions to a set of perceived challenges posed by a Shakespearian text, in this case, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Further, the article suggests ways in which theatre practice can refresh (rather than reject) certain established literary-critical readings of the text, giving them renewed dramatic agency.