On visiting Liechtenstein, I felt the novelty of being in one of the world’s two doubly landlocked countries quickly fade. As long as the country was taken lightly, what with a Post Stamp Museum as its main tourist attraction in the capital, I could manage, even be amused; but as soon as any serious travel was contemplated – God, was it tedious.
Ben Power’s A Tender Thing presents Romeo and Juliet as rarely seen before; as an elderly, married couple, whose lines are taken from all across Shakespeare’s script in cut-and-paste fashion. This works fine at the outset, as a refreshing bonne bouche that teases your knowledge of the original, and for such playgoers who like quoting along to Shakespeare the evening is ideal: the balcony scene becomes raunchy, wizened banter – think stilettos turned slippers – its beauty, grace and amorous anticipation all slain at one fell swoop, a massacre at which the bard himself would boggle. “That’s so clever!” was the catchphrase of the night. We see a masterpiece on holiday, so we bubble and giggle.
But soon enough, we see that Power means business, when tragedy kicks in and Juliet is wheelchair-ridden. A Tender Thing parades all the known repertoire about illness in old age – the feeding of porridge (coughed out), the washing by linen cloth, the amnesia – to the background of a sentimental sea and John Woolf’s aimless music. My plaint is that it did not take an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to deliver this hollow shell of a story, nor even a play; both author and director show little understanding of the stage, and a mimicking one of film – the scene-lengths, scene-changes, and flashbacks point only towards an half-empty cinema.
Juliet is avidly played by Kathryn Hunter, whose part – a hodgepodge of personages from the Nurse to Mercutio – denies her coherence, and indeed a truly great performance of which she is surely capable. Richard McCabe gives a kindly, bumbling Romeo one would fancy as a neighbour. His tough physique could have borne him onto smouldering heights of passion, to Oedipan roars of anguish – difficult for earlier, leaner Romeos – but, alas, McCabe kept in character. All in all, I had dry eyes and a heart unmoved throughout, as I did looking onto the unchanging scenery of Liechtenstein.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon