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Romeo & Juliet – an unbiased review and interview

Madeleine Chapman employs some good old fashioned nepotism to talk to Christel Chapman about the Pop Up Globe, relating to Juliet, and mispronouncing Shakespeare.

The number one blessing and curse with having nine siblings is that you experience a lot of second-hand emotions that you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. When a sibling is hurt, you hurt. When a sibling succeeds, you share in their success. Sometimes a bit too much. And when a sibling is under pressure, you take on some of the stress and nerves.

All this became very clear to me as I waited with my sister Leone for our other sister Christel to appear on stage as Juliet in the Pop Up Globe’s Romeo & Juliet. I had never seen her perform on stage before and I was expecting it to be a fun, relaxing afternoon watching her act. Instead I was more nervous than I’ve ever been in my entire life (except for when I would watch my little sister at dance recitals).

While waiting, I examined my surroundings. The Pop Up Globe truly lives up to the Pop Up title in the best way. With plywood benches and mismatched seats, comfort was clearly not a priority. It’s a replica of the original Globe in London though, which explains the steel scaffolding, right?

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Photo credit: Pop-up Globe/Peter Meecham

Before the show had even started, I was in a full sweat. Mostly because it was unnaturally humid and we were effectively sitting in a tin container with a giant sunroof – but also because I was nervous. More nervous than I was before any athletics meet. Way more nervous than before any exam. Even more nervous than that one time I actually acted in the school production. Having a personal investment in an outcome without having any control over that outcome makes for a truly horrible time.

Luckily for me, Christel was incredible as Juliet. Playing opposite a very impressive Jonathan Tynan-Moss as Romeo, the chemistry was palpable and it only took one scene before I was able to forget that Romeo and Juliet were actually minors and could feel less weird about it. The standout entertainer of the group is Stanley Andrew Jackson III as Mercutio. He could have used his real name in the show and no one would have noticed.

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Spoiler alert for a 500 year old play (Photo credit: Pop-up Globe/Peter Meecham)

Knowing how polarising Shakespeare can be, I found myself scanning the audience every once in a while to see if they were enjoying the show as much as I was. It seemed that everyone was having a blast, despite sitting in a puddle of their own sweat. At one point during Juliet’s devastating monologue, someone walked by outside on Mayoral Drive and began yelling “She’s gonna hang herself!” over and over again. Clearly a huge Shakespeare fan.

After the show had finished and everyone was trying to dry out before emerging in public, Leone and I waited for Christel to come out of her changing room like uber fans. So this is what it’s like to be the sister of a wonderful performer. All this time I’d been doing it all wrong. I spent months ‘bumping into’ Eleanor Catton when all I had to do was wait for my own sister to burst onto the scene.

With such unfettered access to one of the stars of the Pop Up Globe’s exclusive season, I took the opportunity to dig deep into her psyche, and ask the hard-hitting questions.

What was your acting process as a ten year old?

Probably figuring out at what emotional pitch I should ask Mum if I could go to a party or something. And then figuring out the right timing to enter a scene. For example, Mum in the kitchen with [our brother] Joe was always a good time to enter. But if Mum was in a bad mood we could really get a powerful, emotional scene going.

Would you say your acting process has matured since then?

I can only hope. Being new to the industry, I’m still trying to figure out what that process is and I don’t think I ever will have a cemented process. I hope I can stay flexible enough to adapt to each experience. But obviously as I work more and more, I develop a clearer idea of what works for me. This is my first big role outside of drama school so the amount of learning I’ve taken away from this show so far has been huge. Even just discovering the depth of Shakespeare and the never-ending layers to his works. Discovering what is required when working on a stage like the Globe, with a 360 audience. You have nowhere to hide. 

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Moments before Juliet famously hangs herself (Photo credit: Pop-up Globe/Peter Meecham)

The Globe is famously an open-air theatre. What has been the biggest distraction you’ve encountered while performing?

The amount of outside noises – birds, sirens, bar patrons – is wonderful because it’s always encouraging you to play live. But it can also be distracting because I’m still figuring out when I should play with outside noise and when I should ignore it because it won’t help elevate the scene. Weather has its ups and downs. When the sun is blazing on the stage it’s as if you’re walking on a frying pan. When it’s pouring down you go from sweating onstage to shivering backstage. It has a lot of pros though, like being able to draw on the weather to support your line. Capulet refers to the rain at one point, and when it happens to be raining it’s such a special moment. It’s as if a higher power is a part of the play.

Who did you draw inspiration from to play a 14th century 14 year old?

That’s what I’ve loved about being directed by Ben [Naylor]. He really encourages you to bring yourself and your strengths to the characters. I didn’t have an archetype that I tried to replicate. All I wanted was to be a Juliet that only I could be.

You mean, a Juliet who throws tantrums exactly how you used to?

I’m glad you noticed. Yes, to my shame, I was the queen of tantrums when I was younger. I’ve grown out of it now so don’t worry, boys.

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Christel Chapman remembers not being allowed to go to parties (Photo credit: Pop-up Globe/Peter Meecham)

Besides tantrum technique, what similarities do you have with Juliet?

I know what it’s like to be so deep in love that it truly consumes your whole world. I also know what it’s like to really butt heads with my parents while still knowing that they disagreed out of love. I also know what it’s like to be in love with someone who makes you feel everything at once.

Alright, enough about your love life. When you found out that you had gotten this role, had you prepared an acceptance speech and how was it received?

I didn’t have an acceptance speech but I had pre-written a resignation letter so that I could resign from my retail job at any moment if I got the part.

Shakespeare’s words are often mispronounced. You often mispronounce regular words. Did this somehow help you with mastering the dialogue?

Oh my goodness you little shit! There’s actually one word in the show that I still have trouble with. Wanton. I keep pronouncing it wonton and the director thinks it’s the Kiwi accent – but really it’s just me.

Realistically, what do you think your chances are of winning a Tony for this performance?

Let me think. Probably the same chance I have of ever not having to rely on my parents. Next to none.

So there’s still a chance?

[long pause] Oh man my wit really leaves me in interviews which is so unlike real life. Can you make sure you put down that I’m actually really funny?

Romeo & Juliet will be at the Pop Up Globe until April 24th. Get tickets here.

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