Monday 12 February 2018

Romeo & Juliet - Theatre Review

What: Romeo & Juliet
When: 9 - 18 February 2018
Where: Queens Park, Moonee Ponds
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Alan Chambers
Performed by: Alexandra Aldrich, Lore Burns, Brendan Ewing, Victoria Haslam, Ty Holdsworth, Katharine Innes, Todd Levi, Masashi Shimamoto, Letitia Sutherland, and Harry Tseng.

Victoria Haslam
In an ode to Baz Luhrmann - and more specifically Leonardo Di Caprio - Sly Rat brings spectacle and imagination to the Shakespeare in the park classic, Romeo and Juliet. Over the top and with a keen eye to beauty and detail, what sets Sly Rat's production apart from every version before it is the outstanding interpretation of Juliet which shapes the entire production and makes this show leap into the category of extraordinary and truly contemporary.

Director Alan Chambers has taken a look - a real look - at what Juliet says and how she talks and realised that this character transcends the moment. Juliet often speaks as if from hindsight and Chambers has done what I have never seen anyone else do. He has let her age. And thus, this story is told in the confines and freedoms of her mind.

Trapped in a body aged and incapable of independent function, Juliet (Victoria Haslam) relives the adventures leading up to her life's tragedy. It is not said, because the text is altered very little, but I certainly inferred that whilst Juliet got enough poison to appear dead, she did in fact survive. The opening tableau seems to suggest a long and fruitful life although in her twilight she seems trapped in the reliving of those fateful 'in fair Verona' when two star crossed lovers met their plight.

Told from a dream perspective the first act is an indulgence of Surrealism. Set up like a wedding, the play devolves into something resembling the Mad Hatter's tea party as pink flamingo's pepper the lawn, bubbles and smoke distort the backdrop of epic beauty (Queens Park is stunning!) and Chambers indulges in visual flights of fancy. Surrealism is all about using the trope of the dream to create unexpected juxtapositions and Chambers revels in this in everything from the frame of age reliving youth, through to endless repetitions of Leonardo Di Caprio popping up all over the place.

It is ironic that in this incredibly clever retelling, the freshness of the idea is almost contradicted by the form which rides the waves of 1920's origins through the 60's of Lewis Carroll's imaginings before landing in the 2000's with Di Caprio. Personally I enjoyed the journey and the respect for lineage but I missed the utter contemporariness of the introduction as the play devolves into the nightmare of the 2nd Act only to be taken over by an almost Constructionist edge as troops of Di Caprio's invade Juliet's mind before she is swallowed up.

Having said that, the visual elements are stunning and Haslam's Juliet is ferociously dominating as she counts back all the steps which led to the death of her one true love. Her Romeo has taken on Davidian qualities of perfection in her mind, naturally, and Masashi Shimamoto revels in the melodrama of this interpretation - and he has the body to back it up!

I was intrigued by many character interpretations although in the end I do think the play suffered from too many acting styles and the overriding style of Surrealism doesn't account for, or accomodate this adequately. This seems to be a common issue with younger directors.

I was surprised and intrigued by Katharine Innes' Lady Capulet. Todd Levi's Lord Capulet was a more traditional interpretation but mighty fine as well as was Alexandra Aldrich's feisty nurse. Brendan Ewing was stunning as Mercutio and I very much enjoyed the quieter, yet lothario styled Tybalt portrayed by Harry Tseng. I was not convinced by Ty Holdsworth's Benvolio.

One element which had me perplexed was the interpretation of the religious characters as a Wiccan. Or perhaps it is truer to say I didn't warm to the angry, angsty version of a Wiccan presented by Lore Burns. I just couldn't figure out why she was so grumpy all the time when Shakespeare's Friar Lawrence is extremely approachable as a character.

Regardless, this is a wonderful version of the age old story of Romeo and Juliet and the visuals are so strong it stops people passing by and compels them to stay and watch. The location is stunning, the grass is full and soft and green and the gardens are immaculately groomed. Tickets are free and they have a BBQ and licensed bar so you literally can eat, drink and be merry as you engage in this romantic tale cleverly told. An early start time also makes it extremely family friendly.

4 Stars

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