The Bulgarian theatre group Alma Mater staged a musical-dance performance of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Kenya National Theater.
The alternative theatre piece had an underlying theme about art crossing borders and the alikeness of human experiences around the world. Romeo (Georgi Arsov), for instance, asks for the audience’s contribution in choosing the balcony where the lovers meet, saying it could be in Verona where the original play is set, or in Bulgaria where he hails from, or in Nairobi.
The music was also a melting point for different cultures. It was based on the original works of Konstantin Kutshev composed specifically for the play. While performing Adam Salim’s Malaika to charm Juliet (Iliana Serbezova), Romeo also charms the audience. However, the inclusion of Jambo Bwana in the set did not seem relevant.
One fun thing about the performance was that it required audience involvement.
Apart from his great acting, Romeo was tactful about getting someone in the audience to sing in Bulgarian, for example, and a couple to tell their love story which the cast then integrated into Romeo and Juliet’s love story. Usually, inviting the audience could turn quite awkward if not well moderated by the actors involved.
As the audience and cast interacted, there was a wonderful kind of hesitation as one side paused to understand the other before responding. Even though they were speaking the same language, each spoke it differently.
A lot of the music had the personality of what you would hear in a scary movie right before something tragic happens.
Petya Yosifova’s dance choreography matched this mood and the cast’s execution of it brought out issues such as the feuding between the families in an effective way. Actors such as The Nun (Fasika Melaku) and Mercutio (Marko Djenev) gave memorable performances even though they were not on the spotlight much. Friar Lawrence (David Hunkins) had an amazing voice.
A beautiful moment at the end of the performance was the integration of a popular Bulgarian song. Some members of the Bulgarian community in the audience joined the cast in singing it.
Throughout the play, the actors play around with names. For instance, Romeo and Juliet make two people in the audience say their own names were Romeo and Juliet too. This blurring of names called to mind the ability of art forms to cross borders and cultures.
A love story, especially one as famous as Romeo and Juliet’s, is a great vehicle by which artists can interact with audiences that may have different backgrounds from them.