Romeo and Juliet

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Romeo and Juliet is a play by William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)[1].

History of the text

Shakespeare's text was apparently based on an Italian tale translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and retold in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567.

Shakespeare's play, is generally believed to have been written and performed between 1591 and 1596, and first published in a quarto version in 1597. This text was of poor quality, and later editions corrected it, bringing it more in line with Shakespeare's original.

Originally titled The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet or Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet (depending on printed version used), the play is generally referred to simply as Romeo and Juliet today.

Adaptations of the text

Romeo and Juliet has been adapted numerous times for stage, film, musical and opera (many versions of which have been done in South Africa over the years).

During the English Restoration, it was revived and heavily revised by William Davenant. David Garrick's 18th-century version also modified several scenes, removing material then considered indecent, and Georg Benda's operatic adaptation omitted much of the action and added a happy ending.

Performances in the 19th century, including Charlotte Cushman's, restored the original text, and focused on greater realism. John Gielgud's 1935 version kept very close to Shakespeare's text, and used Elizabethan costumes and staging to enhance the drama. In the 20th century the play has been adapted in versions as diverse as George Cukor's comparatively faithful 1936 production, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version, and Baz Luhrmann's 1996 MTV-inspired Romeo + Juliet. Other 20th century stage adaptations include Jean Anouilh's Roméo et Jeanette, Peter Verhelst's Romeo en Julia, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, Joe Calarco's Shakespeare's R&J, *)

South African productions

An eternal favourite, this play has been performed in various guises in South Africa, including excerpts used as parts of Shakespeare readings and other performances by individuals such as Mrs Greig (1851 and possibly 1853), opera, ballet, and film versions.

Performances of the standard text


Performed on 3 July by All the World's a Stage in the Cape Town Theatre (i.e. the African Theatre), with as afterpiece the one-act farce The Married Bachelor, or Master and Man (O'Callaghan).


Performed on 17 August by the All the World's a Stage in the African Theatre, with as afterpiece John Overy, or The Miser of Southwark Ferry (Jerrold).


Excerpts from the play performed as parts of Shakespeare readings by Mrs Greig on her way to England from the Australia or India, assisted by T.P. Hill - and possibly also in 1853 on her return journey to the colonies.


A reading of the play performed by Thomas Brazier, as one of his series of Dramatic Readings held every alternate Monday in the Cape Town City Hall between 4 July and 7 November. (Other plays in the series of seven works read were Knowles's The Hunchback, Bulwer-Lytton's The Lady of Lyons and five plays by Shakespeare: Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, King John and Much Ado about Nothing.)


A production, announced as the "Grand Shakespearian Entertainment" of Romeo and Juliet was performed in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 11 May by the Le Roy-Duret Company. The afterpieces were The Married Rake (Selby) and The Day after the Wedding (Kemble).

On 16 July the Le Roy-Duret Company offered an evening's entertainment in the Harrington Street Theatre, the acts including the "balcony Scene" from Romeo and Juliet, acts 3 and 4 of Lucretia Borgia (Buckingham), the last act of Fazio (Milman), a dance by Herr Luin and a performance of The Turned Head (Beckett).


Performed on 7 October by the Le Roy-Duret Company with a "Fancy Dance" by Miss Clara and The Four Sisters (Bernard). Mrs Duret appeared as "Romeo", the sets painted by C.J. Smith and the piece was a great success with the public.


Scenes from the play were performed as part of a "Musical and Dramatic Entertainment" by the Le Roy and Duret company in the Commercial Exchange, Cape Town on 27 January. The evening was under the patronage Governor Wodehouse, and the programme also included songs, dances, and scenes read and performed from The Lady of Lyons (Bulwer-Lytton), King John (Shakespeare), The Hunchback (Knowles) and A Rough Diamond (Buckstone).


On 19 May Disney Roebuck and his company offered a benefit for Miss Cranston at the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, which included the "balcony Scene" from Romeo and Juliet, as afterpiece to Caste (Robertson).


The "balcony Scene" and the "potion scene" from Romeo and Juliet were performed on 13 September by a company led by Henry Smith and Richard Thatcher, and featuring Ada Ward in the role of "Romeo".


The play was part of the repertoire of Lillian Beddard and her Shakesperian company that toured South Africa in this period, visiting Cape Town in 1888, and Johannesburg and Kimberley in 1889. Specifically mentioned are performances of her appearances as "Juliet" in the "Balcony Scene" in Cape Town (as part of an event called Grand Classical Performance in the Exhibition Theatre, Cape Town, on 3 May 1888) and what was apparently a full production of the play in the Theatre Royal, Johannesburg on 3-8 June, 1889.


Performed as part of the repertoire of the Potter-Bellew Company, brought to South Africa by Luscombe Searelle. The Cape Town production did not however fulfill the public's expectiation, according to D.C. Boonzaier (1923), as it was mounted in a slovenly manner and the supporting cast was not of the best.


Performed by Leonard Rayne and his company as part of his touring repertoire, inter alia playing at the Opera House, Cape Town in the second half of the year.


A radio version of the text broadcast by the SABC radio service on 27 April 1944, with Rolf Lefebvre and Marie Ney as "Romeo" and "Juliet".


The Johannesburg REPS, directed by André van Gyseghem, starring Eugenie Heyns, Leon Gluckman, Muriel Alexander, and Herbert Kretzmer, with sets by Len Grosset and costumes by Louis Jacobson. Put on in the Pretoria Opera House and the Wits University Great Hall).


Presented by the University of Cape Town's Speech and Drama Department at the Little Theatre, directed by Rosalie van der Gucht.


English theatrical director, producer and manager Norman Marshall [2] directed a production by the Little Theatre Players in February.

Frank Staff choreographed a ballet version to the Prokofiev score with the UCT/CAPAB ballet company, which opened in the Cape Town City Hall in December.

Presented by the Arts Theatre Club at the Guild Theatre, directed by Mary Howe.


Presented by The Port Elizabeth Gilbert & Sullivan Society and the Theatre Guild at the Gelvandale Community Centre, on 23rd and 24th April, and at the Port Elizabeth Opera House on April 25th till May 3, 1969. Produced by Helen Mann starring Anthony Kirk (Montague), Reg Hicks (Escalus, The Prince), Edith Porter (The Nurse, Derek Scarr(Capulet), Yvonne Roder (Lady Capulet), Jeremy Bayliss (Tybalt), David Nel (Paris), Trevor Hicks (Benvolio), Alfred Porter (Friar Laurence), Elaine Bateson (Lady Montague), Alice Krige (Juliet), Hartog Blok (Peter), Archie Lincoln (Sampson), Richard Chisnell (Gregory), Varrin Karp (Servant), Colin Stevens (Romeo), Roy Williams (Mercutio), Philip Godawa (Balthasar), Stan Fouche (Abraham), Roy Parker (Friar John), Rudi Trap (An Apothecary), Douglas Catt (Watchman), Geraldine Clarke, Jenny Dore, Pam Gibson, Ann Huber, Mike Wollenschlaegear (Citizens of Verona), and Malcolm Morris, Lorenzo De Nevilly Rice (Maskers, guards, watchmen and attendants).


Directed by Roy Sargeant assisted by John Burch for CAPAB English Company opening at the Nico Malan Theatre Saturday 7 October 1972. Costumes and sets by Peter Cazalet. The cast: Stephen Gurney, Glynn Day, David Sherwood, Charles Kinsman, David Haynes, Paul Slabolepszy, Ronald France, Marion Achber, Don Maguire, Liz Dick, Michael Swinton, Wilson Dunster, John Burch, Joyce Bradley, Helen Bourne, Roger Dwyer, Keith Grenville, Charles Hickman, Howard Ayrst, Douglas Skinner, Elliot Playfair. Music by Michael Tuffin.


Veronica Paeper choreographed a new ballet version, inspired by Frank Staff's version, to the Prokofiev score with the CAPAB ballet company.


Presented by René Ahrenson and Cecilia Sonnenberg in association with CAPAB Drama to celebrate their founding of the Maynardville Open Air Shakespeare Theatre, opening 11 January. Directed by Leslie French, associate director Roy Sargeant, designed by Dicky Longhurst, lighting designed by Brian Kennedy, music composed and arranged by Michael Tuffin, choreography by Matine Harman. Romeo was played by British actor Robert Burbage [3] and Juliet by British actress Lynsey Baxter [4]. Other members of the cast were John Whiteley, Tom Holmes, Melville Oxley, Keith Grenville, Paul Slabolepszy, Sean Taylor, Andrew Buckland, Don Maguire, Chris Goetsch, Bruce Young, Richard Luyt, Martin le Maitre, Robin Sanders, Judith Krummeck, Jeanne Wennberg, Ethwyn Grant.


Directed by Janice Honeyman, staged at the Market Theatre, starring Elfrank Wessels, Robert Whitehead, Beverley Melnick, Paul Slabolepszy, Lynette Luyt, Vanessa Cooke, Jeremy Crutchley, Frantz Dobrowsky, Danny Keogh, Greg Latter, Ralph Lawson, Ian Steadman, Peter Stoneley, Neville Thomas and David Eppel.

The stage production was televised by the SABC.


Directed by Ian Steadman for SODA, Wits Theatre.


Maynardville, directed by Ken Leach, starring Bill Jervis, Gavin van den Berg, Gordon van Rooyen, Ronald France, Robert Finlayson (as Romeo), David Butler, Nicky Rebelo, André Roothman, Royston Stoffels, Peter Butler, Willie Fritz, Timothy Mahoney, Neels Coetzee, Phillip Boucher, Pauline O'Kelly, Ingrid Emslie, Mary Dreyer, Embeth Davidtz (as Juliet), Shaleen Surtie-Richards, 29 January to 5 March. Designed by Marthinus Basson, lighting designed by Malcolm Hurrell, choreography by Pamela Chrimes, fight choreography by John Simons.


Directed for PACT Drama by Ilse van Hemert, 1992, starring Patrick Ndlovu, Peter Se-Puma, Tjaart Potgieter (Montague, Pretoria), Joss Levine (Montague, Johannesburg), Neville Thomas, David Germond (Romeo), Soli Philander, Gustav Geldenhuys (Benvolio, Pretoria), Martin Le Maitre (Sampson, Pretoria and Benvolio, Johannesburg), David Clatworthy, Dale Cutts, Samson Khumalo, Saul Bamberger (Abraham, Pretoria and Sampson, Johannesburg), Bruce Laing, Graham Bulllen (Abraham, Johannesburg), Jane Noble, Billy Second, Emma-Jane Mezher, Nomhle Nkonyeni. Designer James MacNamara, lighting designer Jane Gosnell, fight choreographer Michael Richard.

Recorded during a performance in Johannesburg, it is available as a videorecording. (Skenia in association with Nedbank [distributor], c1992.--145 min).


Veronica Paeper recreated her 1974 ballet version with the CAPAB ballet company. It opened in the Nico Opera House on 19 October.


Performed at Maynardville, directed by Clare Stopford. Designs Michael Mitchell, lighting Malcolm Hurrell, sound Robin Shuttleworth. With Blaise Koch, Royston Stoffels, Denise Newman, Nomsa Nene, Denver Vraagom, Rehane Abrahams, Oscar Peterson and Siswe Msutu.

Performed at the Wits Theatre, 31 March to 20 April, directed by Malcolm Purkey for University of the Witwatersrand School of Dramatic Art.


Produced by DSN Productions, directed by Darryl Nel at the Port Elizabeth Opera House (April 2005) and Guy Butler Theatre (at the Eastern Cape Schools Festival, May 2005), with Francois Malan (Romeo), Dominique Beyleveld (Juliet), Anton Calitz, Craig Gilchrist, Benito Carelsen, Bennie Gerber, Reynard ffoulkes, Masasa Mbangeni, Wesley Hayter, Mapuma Mncedisi, Andrew Horne, Mikhail Jordaan, Niqui Cloete-Barrass, Annaline Stiglingh, Daniel Höll, Bob Law. Fight choreography by Alison Canter.


Maynardville, directed by Fred Abrahamse.


Romeo and Juliet directed by Helen Wilkins and performed by Mannville Open Air Theatre, Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival, February, 2009.

Romeo and Juliette, choreographed by Dada Masilo, performed at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown (July, 2009) and Baxter Theatre, Cape Town (October, 2009)).

Translations into South African languages

Translated into a number of South African languages, including:

Afrikaans as Die Tragedie van Romeo en Juliet by André P. Brink, Human & Rousseau, 1975. Performed by PACOFS in 1977 (stage manager Mavis Lilenstein) and in 1981, directed by Sandra Kotzé, starring Gerben Kamper and Rina Nienaber. The PACOFS production also starred Hugo Taljaard, Henry Mylne, Nico Luwes, Anna Cloete, Roelf Laubscher and others. Decor and costume design was by Dicky Longhurst and the music was composed by Noel Stockton.

Another translation into Afrikaans (as Romeo en Juliet) by D'Arcy du Toit was produced by the Groote Schuur High School in Rondebosch, Cape Town, opening 30 July 1971. The director was Cilliers Delport.

Translated into Southern Sotho as Romeo le Juliet by I. Mahloane. Published by Mazenod in 1964), .

South African performances of adaptations from abroad

For South African productions of the adaptations, go to the individual entries for the various versions:

West Side Story

Roméo et Jeanette

Romeo en Julia (studie van een verdrinkend lichaam) (Verhelst)

Shakespeare's R&J

South African adaptations

Similarly, many local variations and adaptations have been done.

Romeo and Juliet PACT 1970's

In a theatre-in-education programme on Romeo and Juliet (done by PACT Playwork, director Peter Terry) used the text as a springboard to explore the notion of prejudice in South Africa and Northern Ireland, for debate by the audience.

Romeo and Juliet by Western Cape Theatre of the Deaf, 1999

A movement drama version was presented by the Western Cape Theatre of the Deaf, directed by Dale Homes and Bob Masilela with a cast of high school pupils from Khayelitsha, Langa, Mitchell's Plain, Woodstock and Central Cape Town, April 1999.

Juliet+Romeo+Romeo+Juliet by the Drama Department, University of Stellenbosch, 2011

A modern day adaptation by Christiaan Olwagen, based on a workshop process by director Marthinus Basson and 36 student actors from the Drama Department at University of Stellenbosch. Set in the Verona Clinic for the insane, a metaphor for modern day South Africa, which reflects contemporary reality, with identifiable types and situations from everyday news, the love story has to chart a course between the various approaches to the treatment of psychological deviation amidst the power struggles between doctors and administrative staff. Performed in the H.B. Thom Theatre, 19-25 August 2011, directed by Basson, with designs by Wolf Britz.


Ludwig Wilhelm Berthold Binge. 1969. Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel (1832-1950). Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

Inskip, 1972. p.150.

D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [5]: pp. 214, 217, 374, 441

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 189, 201, 204, 206, 208, 211, 230-236, 295, 324, 332, 372. 388. 394, 421

Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

Romeo and Juliet theatre programme, Maynardville 1980.

Theatre programme, 1988.

Port Elizabeth Express (6 April 2005) (2005 production)

Arts Theatre Club archive held by George Mountjoy.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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