Captioned Theatre at the Bristol Old Vic

Last weekend, I had the fortune to go to the Bristol Old Vic’s first captioned performance, ‘Juliet and her Romeo’, which was basically a reworking of Romeo and Juliet with old people in the title roles and the younger members of the families raising objections, all set in a nursing home.

It was an interesting take on a Shakespearean classic, and I’ll admit it here – I sniffled at the final scenes of ‘Romeo + Juliet’ with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. After the play though, my eyes were watering for a different reason – watching the captions as the actors spouted line after line of Shakespearean dialogue, of which – this being Shakespeare – there was a lot.

Whilst it was great to able to enjoy a play here in Bristol, where captioning in theatres hasn’t really taken off yet, I got a crick in my neck from turning to look at the captions and a headache from all the speed-reading. Not to mention flicking my eyes between the captions (off-stage right) and the action, which felt slightly like watching two different things at once, so split was my attention.

Having said all that, it was a good play, with good actors, and some funny one-liners – the script was tweaked here and there to adjust to the change of scene from 16th century verona to modern-day geriatric antics. All of the actors were good, but I liked Juliet and the nurse. Romeo killing Tybalt was a bit drawn-out, what with the change of weapon from a dagger to a pillow, and the part where Romeo learns of Juliet’s ‘death’, rants at the unfairness of it all and rushes to her side was glossed over with some on-the-spot jogging from the elderly lead that impressed me with his levels of fitness. The acting was good, the actor’s memories incredible, and it was interesting to approach the classic doomed love affair from a completely different angle.

I merely have some suggestions for improvement – moving the caption screen to just below the stage a la TV subtitles style and making the screen longer so your eyes aren’t constantly snapping back and forth reading the lines. Apart from that, jolly good show from the Old Vic, and here’s hoping that having done it for the first time and discovered that it didn’t cause anything to blow up, and indeed that they sold out the audience, a significant percentage of whom were wearing hearing-aids, they’ll do it again. And again. In fact here’s to many more captioned plays at the Bristol Old Vic!

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