Dik Ng with permission for Varsity

There is something strange yet wonderful about going to chapel at three o’clock in the afternoon. Especially when one is immediately enveloped in a gliding hymn (played by the amazing Jasmine Habgood and Christina Huang) and seated opposite a stained-glass window to bask in filtered sunlight. Much like the chapel itself, Sophie Rayner’s production of  Romeo and Juliet was all silk and shimmer, punctuated, at times, by the haunting arpeggios of the Moonlight Sonata. I was absolutely hooked.

Each member of the ensemble brought their character to life with a level of finesse and authenticity that was astounding. Special mention must be given to Mercutio (Matilda Braje), whose languid confidence and impeccable delivery of the Queen Mab monologue left me yearning for more. Juliet (Shaira Berg), fresh and gorgeous, delivered the draft soliloquy in act 4 with unforgettable poignancy, while Romeo (Johnny Kennedy) exuded wonderfully spontaneous charm. Equally, Friar Lawrence's (Georgina Hayward) prophetic presence and Lady Capulet's (Isabel Beaumont) cold cruelty only added to the rich tapestry of characters populating Shakespeare's world.

Also, this felt doomed from the beginning. I say this because Romeo and Juliet can sometimes come off as a strange hybrid (Baz Luhrmann, I’m looking at you) but this was purely and unequivocally tragic, almost in the Greek sense, that is, of an intense cathartic experience. The choice of venue made it especially fatalistic, and the frequent glances towards the apse did not go unnoticed. These characters were being perpetually judged; their merits weighed in the grand scale of the universe, with us the audience, in the thick of it. Indeed, the actors’ movements made it feel quasi-immersive, performing, as they were, across the whole of the space.

The only problem with this, of course, was the sheer distance at which they were sometimes standing. I am thinking of the balcony scene, whose location on the organ was a delightful surprise, but too far to create the needed intimacy (or to see Juliet’s expressions clearly). This is the challenge when performing somewhere like a chapel: props and structural support must be kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, the production was unusually successful in using the faculties of the space, and in so doing created a restless and invigorating movement that echoed the situation of the lovers, star-crossed, as the famous line goes.

The wedding scene stood out as a true spectacle, with the backdrop perfectly complementing the solemnity of the occasion. Mercutio's death, too, was especially heart-wrenching, his dedication to staying dead under a sheet adding a powerful foreshadowing element to the play. Finally, the confrontation between Lady Capulet and Juliet about marriage felt tremendously poignant, highlighting with sensitivity and grace the often overlooked complexities of the mother-daughter relationship.

Overall, this was a masterful blend of classical elegance and timeless tragedy. The impeccable acting, stunning scenes, and evocative music combined to create a truly unforgettable theatrical experience. As I filed out of the chapel and into the darkness of Great Court – for it was now evening – I could not help but feel slightly awed and, for just a moment, a little bit more alive.