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Romance in the park: Romeo and Juliet under the stars

Sitting on a picnic blanket amongst a relaxed,chattering audience, the atmosphere on the
warm March evening at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne was one of content
excitement as we awaited the start of the Australian Shakespeare Company’s production
of Romeo and Juliet.

My mum, sister and I managed to grab a spot near the front of the stage, with just
enough time to buy some refreshments and enjoy a leisurely dinner. A few minutes before
the start of the show, Anthony Rive and Brendan O’Connor emerged dramatically from
backstage to warm up the audience, all of us game to play along. Rive and O’Connor made
a hilarious pair, brilliant at the improvisation required to interact well with the audience,
making us all laugh and singling out embarrassed individuals with comments like
“Did you see that? This lady was undressing me with her eyes!”

More actors appeared on stage to deliver a comic, Shakespearean sketch, explaining the
basic rules of no photography, mobile phones,cleaning up our litter and the like. Then
finally, as the sky darkened, the bats began to chatter and the stage and surrounding trees
glowed with coloured lighting, the play began.

The first half of the play was lighthearted and fun, while the latter part was heavier and more serious. The entire team did an incredible job of bringing such a well-known story to life, with beautifully choreographed dances and riveting fight scenes that had the actors running across the stage and jumping over carts while brandishing their swords.

A particularly stand-out performance was that of Romeo, played by Jamieson Caldwell.
Not only because of a certain scene in which he appeared shirtless; but his portrayal of the
tragic Romeo was emotive and heart-felt while also making the often overused lines of the
play sound fresh and new. Juliet (Madeline Field) was, however, more difficult to connect
to on an emotional level. She was occasionally too melodramatic, but this may have been all a
part of her plan in her portrayal of the shallow, twelve year old Juliet.

Scott Jackson’s performance as Mercutio was so outstanding and hilarious that I need to
dedicate a paragraph solely to him. He really brought the audience into the action, whether
by stealing a kiss from an unsuspecting woman sitting in the front, joking that her breath
smelled of cheap Chardonnay, or by telling another audience member to add him on Facebook saying “poketh me then I’ll poketh you!”. Jackson’s charismatic performance was
definitely my favourite.

The captivating atmosphere of the production really was an epic conglomeration
of not only the acting and peaceful surroundings of the gardens, but a myriad of
elements. The stage was made up beautifully, though using only basic props, which together
with the costumes and makeup, contributed to the feeling of being truly immersed within the
story. The lighting, both on the stage and in the trees, created a more intense atmosphere,
emphasising the emotions of a scene, changing colours or brightly spotlighting an actor as
he or she shared troubled thoughts with the audience. Music played throughout the
production, with love songs playing before the action had even begun and emotive music used
to highlight each scene.

This was really an incredible production, and though the Romeo and Juliet season is
complete for this summer, keep an eye out for the next Shakespeare Under The Stars
production. So grab a friend/family member/significant other next time around, tickets are
not expensive and the evening is definitely worth it.

Naomi Cohen

The author Naomi Cohen

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