O Júlia , Júlia ! wherefore art thou Júlia ?

A play with two Juliets, one Hungarian and one English: you might well ask 'wherefore'. The wherefore, according to the blurb, at least, is to conjure up "Shakespeare's most beautiful ghost", and for a mixed nationality audience at that. I won't say I was skeptical but I wondered how it would work. With no one but Juliet doubled up, would it not be something like a one-sided telephone call with simultaneous interpretation?

A minimal set and costumes reflected a now familiar approach to Shakespeare, and as the audience entered, Juliet was already romping with herself in the middle of a featureless stage. I was quickly reassured that the Juliets would not be an exact duplicate of each other: some lines and movements were mirrored, others weren't. When one Juliet spoke, the other became a silent Romeo; a setting; a thought at the back of Juliet's mind.

While I'm sure there was a definite direction to the script, seeing Romeo & Juliet performed a few years ago was not sufficient for me to follow the story as such. Shakespeare-lovers or anyone who's actually read the thing recently would therefore have a much different experience. Add to that, the fact that some of the audience would understand the Hungarian, some the English, and others both or neither, and we suddenly have eight different plays on show. (Anyone who is unfamiliar with Romeo & Juliet and understands neither language might be in for a rough ride.)

In the absence of a straightforward narrative, it was the performances that took on the great burden of keeping me interested, and both Juliets were exceptional. That they were not alike was crucial: one, physical, sexual and occasionally animalistic (she growled at me as soon as I sat down) and the other slight and delicate. If you only understood the language of one, the other took on a mysterious presence but at the fore nonetheless. To say that they deconstructed Juliet would be too clinical but they certainly delved around in her psyche.

The Hungarian Juliet, Ubrankovics Júlia, is billed as an award-winning actress (she's even got a profile on IMDB!!) and indeed, it was clear that she was no amateur. It was surprising then that Sophie Thompson, The English Juliet, billed as "from London" went beyond the call of duty, soundtracking the whole thing by singing ghostly medieval melodies that seamlessly wove in and out of the script. Even if you have no theatrical bone in your body, you couldn't fail to be impressed by her undertaking.

With such chemistry, it was a surprise that our post-performance chat with the cast, and director,
Engi-Nagy Natália, felt a little strained. Little did we know that Júlia had just announced that she wouldn't be taking part in any further shows. (With an audience that barely numbered twenty, you can understand why.) With two further shows scheduled for late May, and performances at the Camden Fringe Festival lined up, Natália has been quick to recruit news reporter, Kucsera Olga!

o see how she handles the switch to the stage, head to Sirály on Tuesday 26th or Wednesday 27th May. That gives me two weeks to brush up on my Shakespeare before finding out whether Olga can preserve the crucial balance and match the intensity of Júlia's performance. Who knows, she may even growl at me too.

Keep up to date with developments by following
Natália's performance diary blog here.

Andy Sz.


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