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Bad Bromance

by Linda Stupart / 18.08.2011

R & J is an adaption of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by Joe Calarco currently playing at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town. The play, directed by Fred Abrahamse, is unique in that it features an all-male cast. We spoke to James MacGregor about his standout performance as Juliet, and what it feels like to be teased for playing a girl.

Mahala: The main premise of R & J is that a group of boarding school boys find a copy of the play and then spend the night secretly enacting it. How do you think this shifts the meaning of the script?

James MacGregor: Well, in a lot of ways the play becomes more about the forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet and not necessarily the broader familial and social consequences involved. One of the main themes of the original version is how their deaths bring together the two families at the end. In the religious boarding school setting, with the idea’s of lust and religion playing a large role, having these two boys fall in love is more about the tragedy of them never being able to live happily ever after, at least in the world they inhabit.

If you think of it that way you’re not really playing Juliet, so much as playing a boy who is playing her part? How do you prepare for that kind of role?

Yes, the journey for this boy starts off as fun, playing around with his friends, but gradually the play becomes more of a representation of the relationship developing between himself and his classmate. With that in mind it’s still very important to play the truth of Juliet and not disregard her own discoveries of love and lust. So in preparation, essentially, you’re still playing the lover and it would be the same for any acting role that involves a love story. The trick was to get the boy involved, finding his own journey and feelings through the story being told.

Romeo and Juliet

That said, did your friends make fun of you for playing Juliet?

There was a fair amount of teasing involved,but they got over it… kind of. I don’t think they ever imagined a guy playing one of the most famous female roles in history.

But men used to play the women in Shakespearian times anyway…

Totally… And I’m sure they got picked on too!

You’ve played both Romeo and Juliet now, which has to be a pretty unusual thing for an actor, which one do you think was more interesting for you?

It’s pretty cool,I can actually do the balcony scene to myself now… But I reckon Juliet has been both challenging and fun. Romeo is quite a straight-shooting guy and is completely lead by impulse, where Juliet doesn’t have the same choices and has a lot more required of her socially. The idea of a girl running away with a man that isn’t accepted by the family was, and often sill is, not considered to be the future you want for your daughter, and to have so many constrictions allows me to play with a lot of different levels and makes her very complex as a character. And I actually prefer Shakespeare’s female roles!

Like Lady Macbeth?

Playing her would be awesome… she’s a serious badass!

She’s amazing. Juliet mostly wait for things, though, as opposed to actually doing anything…

Well,it seems that way sometimes, however she is the one who initiates the marriage proposal and gets Romeo to sort things out with the friar. If anything, she drives the relationship a lot more than Romeo does. I say Juliet holds the most power and drives the play; Romeo just does what he’s told!

Fair enough. With R & J, what do you think will happen after the night ends? I was waiting for some kind of prologue – an ending outside the play within a play…

It is a question that we leave for the audience to answer forthemselves, though we have made some change to the ending later in the run. For me, like inside the Shakespearian text, the two lovers can never be together and their union can never be accepted.

The boys, however, might take the lessons of their experience, hopefully with a broader tolerance and understanding of what they have been throughwith each other. Hopefully they become activists and fight for humanrights all over the world, or perhaps lawyers. Ha ha.

R&J plays at The Fugard in Cape Town until 20 August 2011.

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