Interview: Troika Theatre Company

Posted: May 31, 2011 in Interview
Tags: , , , , , ,

Romeo & Juliet

This weekend marks the debut of Troika Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet at the Kenton Theatre. It’s founders have taken on multiple roles for the production – with Nathan Grassi playing the eponymous Romeo, Rachel Johnson taking the reins as director, and Jen Middleton multi-tasking as choreographer and Lady Capulet. They joined me here to talk about their new company, Shakespearean verse, and imaginary death-matches between creatures of the wilderness…

What inspired you to create Troika Theatre, & why did you choose R&J as your first show under the company name?

Rachel              Myself, Jenni Middleton and Nathan Grassi have been working together for 3 years, on and off the stage, and came together with the shared vision of creating high quality theatre that will challenge, excite, stir and entertain audiences. With so many talented and undiscovered actors and actresses across Oxford and we aim to seek out and promote new talent and provide opportunities for all of our actors, designers, technicians to further their practical experience in a serious working environment. We are a young and hardworking team with high standards and big aspirations!       

During the rehearsal process, did you make any discoveries that you hadn’t previously realised?

Nathan: Yes; I discovered if I wasn’t careful, Romeo could actually turn into rather a whiney brat! I found him to be impetuous, determined and very foolish – But isn’t anyone who falls head over heels in love?

So what do you think it is that makes Romeo fall in love with Juliet? And what about poor old Rosaline?!

N:         It’s a case of love at first sight! There is no reason for love like that – it just happens. As the story goes on, I think it’s a case of forbidden love but still a very real one. And … “ROSALINE? I have forgot that name and that name’s woe!” She played it too safe with Romeo; I think he just got bored.

Would you say you have enjoyed being Romeo?

N:         Of course! I think nearly everyone studies Romeo & Juliet in school, at some point; but you really don’t know what the character is like until you have to play him. Playing Romeo is completely different to when I first encountered him in study.

To Rachel, are there any key themes in the text you particularly wanted to bring out?

R:         I wanted to tell this story truthfully and to do this I really needed a young cast. A key theme in the play for me is youth vs age and so casting was vital to me. Jenni Middleton plays Lady Capulet, the real age of Juliet’s mum and Camilla Clarke playing Juliet is extremely youthful and could be believed to be just 14 or 15 years old. We also have a team of young men, all in their 20s who make up the two gangs.

How did you approach the text? Have you stuck to the iambic rhythm a la Peter Hall, or have you gone more modern?

R:         One of the reasons I was drawn to this play was because 90% of the text is in verse. Shakespeare has written a beautiful and powerful play which comes alive with the juxtaposition of simple and complex language and rhythms. It’s very important to me to be faithful to the verse. I have worked hard in rehearsal to help the actors understand and embrace the meter and have encouraged them to question how and why rhythm is broken. Directing Shakespeare is a joy because he has done so much of the work for me already! If actors know where to look then they are so often told when to speed up, when to slow down, when they should pause for thought, when they should finish each others sentences etc. All of these clues help us understand who the characters are, how they are feeling and also helps establish a context for them. To interfere or ignore the verse deliberately doesn’t makes sense to me and does not help the actors. Yes, wow, it would appear I am definitely a traditionalist when it comes to the language!            

And what have you done in terms of design for this production?

R:         There is a certain pressure as a director when you attempt stage the most famous love story of all time. What will the balcony look like? How will Romeo & Juliet meet? What style will the party be? This pressure forces a director to think creatively but it can be easy to become distracted by design. Preparing the production for Italy was blessing in this respect. We took the production on the road and the only props and costume bits we had were what fitted into the company member’s luggage. We rehearsed with little to no set so we were reliant on telling the story by voice, movement, music and characterisation alone. For our UK debut I have chosen to keep the design simple. Our production is set in a hot Verona in the present day. The set is simple, a scaffolding backdrop. The scaffolding represents not only the physical balcony and street but also highlights the complicated relationships and inter-woven themes dominating the play. Music is used periodically to set the scene and drive the action forward and lighting will be used creatively to draw focus to important moments in the story.

With that design in mind, how have you approached the dance and movement sequences in the show?

Jen:      All of the dance in the show has been inspired completely by our music choices. The style of music and its accents dictate what movement is choreographed as well as the overall feel of the piece. I listen to the music several times noting accents and changes in feel and style before choreographing a single step!

Has it been difficult juggling choreography with your role as Lady Capulet?

J:          Not massively but it was a little bit tricky when I’ve choreographed something I’m in too; it means I can’t watch out for mistakes or areas to work on unless I step out to evaluate!

And how have you interpreted the relationship between Lady C and Juliet?

J:            Awkward! She tries to be a mum and to be close to her daughter but it never really works as Juliet sees the Nurse as more of a mother figure.

To all of you, have Troika got anything else planned for the future?

N:         Indeed we have! Troika will be taking over the Oxford Castle Courtyard in June 2012 with a two-week run of Taming of the Shrew. Lighter fare than Romeo & Juliet but you can still expect the same Troika quality.

R:         More details about tickets and how to get involved will be available shortly on our website.

So here’s your opportunity to sell some tickets – why should audiences come and see this instead of going to the pub this weekend?

J:            Because you don’t get love, tears, song and dance for £12 down the local…not before midnight anyway!

N:         You think you know Romeo & Juliet really well? Do you? How many and which characters die? It’s a great way to spend an evening (afternoon); the show is short, sharp and completely enthralling. You’ll be please to come out alive and be appreciative of love!

Good sell! Now onto important matters…if there were a fight between a bear and shark, who would win?

N:         The bear. No one, not even a shark wants a knock in the head from a bear. Plus, they are cuddly; how can you hug a shark?!

J:          A bear; a shark would have to get the bear into deep water just to have a chance!   

R:         That’s tricky but I’m going to go for the bear. ‘Exit pursued by shark’ doesn’t quite seem right. Bear every time.

  1. Laura B says:

    Follow-up question for N – do you really think The Taming of the Shrew, that riotous comedy about spousal abuse, is truly ‘lighter fare’ than Romeo and Juliet? Inquiring minds want to know 😉

    Also, you know, good interview and all.

  2. Rachel J says:

    Perhaps he means lighter fare for him? 🙂

    The Taming of the Shrew, although categorised as a comedy, is certainly not straight-forward!

  3. sue.caddick says:

    I think this blog is fantastic
    in respect of Taming of the Shrew – what is your opinion in how it depicts spousal disharmony

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