Two young lovers. Feuding families. A death or two.
The best thing about reviewing a show like Romeo and Juliet, is that it is unlikely I’ll be spoiling the ending for anyone. It is called a tragedy after all.
But maybe you think you don’t like Shakespeare. All those ‘thou arts’ and ‘my lords’ – surely they get in the way of a good story, right?
Now picture you are having a picnic and a glass of wine as the sun sets over the historic Ripponlea Estate, and Romeo and Juliet is being performed only metres in front of you. There’s a Bollywood style dance scene, superb lighting on the grandeur of Ripponlea house and even references to social media. So this play is not simply another adaptation of the well-known tale, it is a fresh take on Romeo and Juliet and a good one at that.
The director, Glenn Elston, has divided the Montagues and Capulets into different cultural backgrounds. By doing this, Elston has included what was a highlight for me, a superbly choreographed, and obviously well-rehearsed, energetic dance sequence with great costumes. Not the sort of Shakespeare I was expecting.
Despite opening in a sort of pantomime style, with two servants, one from each of the houses Montagues and Capulets, encouraging the audience to cheer and boo for each house, this was not the tone of the rest of the show. Instead, thank goodness, we saw a little world of Verona in Melbourne.
As each cleverly staged scene smoothly transitioned into another, the colourful lighting on Ripponlea house set the mood. The dialogue was often humorous as Shakespeare intended, but it’s unlikely Mercutio, played by Paul Morris, was following Shakespeare’s writings when he called out ‘add me on Snapchat’ to one of the front row patrons as he ran off stage. Both Morris and Samuel Rowe, who played Romeo, exhibited great energy as they engaged in fight scenes and ran around the low stage, it was hard not to feel involved when they were so enthusiastic.
Rowe sprinting across the stage multiple times to hear better Ayesha Madon, who played Juliet, speak from the balcony of Ripponlea house in the famous balcony scene, added a contemporary dimension to what many would recognise as a classic Shakespearean scene. The pace picked up in the realistic fight scenes and the tempo only gave way as the actors gracefully died, a credit to fight choreographer Charlie Mycroft, who also played Benvolio.
You don’t need to have knowledge of the story in order to enjoy the show. Whilst I had studied Romeo and Juliet in high school, my companion had not, yet we both found the production very enjoyable and accessible. The Shakespearean language was easy to follow through the actors’ use of props and gestures (they call it acting), most helpful in Mercurio’s monologue on dreams. So don’t be put off going to see this if your idea of a fun night out doesn’t normally include Shakespearean drama.
Melbourne now has a lot of opportunities to see film or theatre outside in the warmer months. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, I attended on the coldest night in three months. I did not wear enough layers. So, if I have one recommendation, when you go see it and quite frankly I think you should, make sure to wear warm socks and take a blanket.
Romeo and Juliet by The Australian Shakespeare Company is playing at Ripponlea Estate until Thursday 21 March.