Monday, 17 August 2009

Romeo & Juliet: Generation X

Romeo & Juliet (Three Spoon Theatre)
Bats Theatre, August 5-15

Credit to the cast and crew must be given for the fact that less than half an hour after finishing one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays, they are back to tackle the second of the double-bill (Ha!) with commendable relish. Both of these are massive oeuvres and a lot of hard work has clearly gone into attempting to whittle them down to an attention-challenged modern audience.

Although the editing is slightly suspect, director Ralph McCubbin Howell strikes a far better balance with Romeo and Juliet. The young leads are not so much star-crossed lovers, as self-destructive teenage time-bombs, but it is great to see them being portrayed by people who understand the exuberance of youth.

It is easy to believe that Juliet (Claire Wilson) is 13 as she morphs from bashful and bemused to defiant and determined in the space of an evening. She displays her subtle humour in the waking ‘It was the nightingale and not the lark’ scene and is a worthy partner to Romeo’s (Eli Kent) passions.

The Montague mob are adept at juvenile shenanigans with overtones of smut, alcohol, vomit, and ludicrous lovelorn poetry. Benvolio (Jack Sergent-Shadbolt) is almost unbearably cute with his hang-dog loyalty, whereas Mercutio (Allan Henry) is brash and boorish – he is superb in his too cool for school persona with melodramatic gestures.

His death scene is quick and realistic although far from painless. All the sombre moments are strong, especially the episode in the tomb which can often drag on but is here played with a chilling lack of hyperbole, aided by minimal lighting (Rachel Marlow).

Eli Kent is the darling of the drama student crowd if the girls in the audience were anything to go by. High-pitched squeals and sycophantic giggling met his every utterance, like a character from Happy Days. To his credit he didn’t milk these banal responses and managed to keep the production enjoyable for all – unlike his teenaged fan-club.

The preppy look of the Montague’s cardigans, cricket jumpers and waistcoats also recalls 1950s America and the production owes more to Sondheim than Shakespeare. When they encounter the Capulets, led by the dangerous and sexy Tybalt (Dominic de Souza) the stylish fight-scenes (choreographed by Ricky Dey) are well-executed but I keep expecting them to break into song.

The cuts make the mood changes more sudden which befits the fickle nature of adolescence but threatens to lose depth. Friar Lawrence (Jonny Potts) is given an enlarged role (including some lines surplus to the original play) which alters the intent. It becomes not coincidence that leads to the deaths but criminal negligence. Friar Lawrence is worldly, cynical and highly culpable.

There is no exploration of the motives of the adults in this production. Charlotte Bradley (in the antithesis of her earlier role in Measure for Measure) is a shrieking shrewish Lady Capulet, while Prince Escalus (Thomas McGrath) just appears to turn up and shout.

Jean Sergent indicates that she would revel in the complete and complex role of the Nurse. As it is, with so many of her speeches deleted, she contents herself with expressing one thing with her words and another with her eyes.

Paris (Aaron Baker), Juliet’s suitor preferred for her by her parents, is a pathetic dupe and there is no hint of his munificence. The fact that we don’t feel sorry for him at all allows us to concentrate on other aspects but it lacks some of the rich tapestry of the tragedy. I suppose we can’t be expected to think about more than one thing at once.

It’s a well-enough known story that explanations are largely unnecessary, but whereas this play is often concerned with how a community has ripped itself apart, this Shakespeare-lite 20/20 production is distilled entirely to the dead young folk. It’s Romeo and Juliet for Generation X.

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