Joe Calarco's adaptation provides a huge sigh of relief. In fact, in the hands of director Craig Ilott, it's capable of providing sighs of exhilaration. Ilott's young, but distinguished young cast do him proud and have much to do with this result.
Ben Gerrard (who, as memory serves, shone in the Blacktown bard, Wayne Tunks' Silvertop Ash) is barely out of NIDA, but has an almost innate command of linguistic cadence so vital to a Shakespearean reading; even if his delivery is so cocksure and rapidfire, diction is oft-sacrificed.
Will O'Mahony is living proof of WAAPA's encroachment on the holy graildom of the NSW institution, playing Juliet with breathtaking feminine affinity, delicacy, demeanour & posture.
Paul-William Mawhinney, also a recent, but by no means raw, NIDA-grad, while not quite as distinctive a Romeo as to equal Juliet, shows all the hallmarks of a fine & finessed actor to come.
Not as nuanced as his cohorts, but unquestionably the crowd-pleasing fave, was Andrew Ryan, who gave us a wonderfully comic, broad Aussie Nurse. As with O'Mahoney's keen observance of womanly ways, Ryan uncannily adopted the vocal and physical attributes of the gold-hearted matron we've all met; a virtual channelling. There were disconcerting, if very minor moments, though, when his characters were blurred, or dropped-out; nothing a little more concentration won't fix.
The simplicity of busy designer Nicholas Dare's minimalist set was striking and effective; Matthew Marshall's elegantly symmetrical lighting a near-perfect complement (at one point, Mawhinney seemed to get a little lost in shadow).
Nick Wales musical composition added impetus, too, but I come back to Ilott, whom I shall happily proclaim as one of my very favourite theatre directors. The proof is in the pudding and this particular pudding is proof indeed. Brimming with refreshing, reinvigorating imagination, ideas and devices, he brings an almost filmic quality to the play; a feeling enhanced by the other technical contributions. His choreography of chairs has to be seen to be appreciated, as does the menacing, mesmeric power of the staggered repetition of key lines and the use of 'choruses' of voices to form but one character. Sheer, operatic genius!
Calarco's setup is an ingenious one, also, for it allows us to shrug off any previous negative exposures and experiences with Shakespeare and rediscover what is, arguably, his best-known play, through the wide eyes of a cabal of Catholic-school boys from a while ago, more conversant with sticks than carrots. Ilott exploits this cleverness optimally, delivering a version of R & J that stands alone in its originality. The effect is the classical theatrical equivalent of reinventing the wheel, something I wouldn't really have thought possible. It turns out, however, where there's a Will, there's a way.
At last, some piercing light has broken through yonder window: this is an entirely new prism through which one can view the intense, almost blinding beauty of Million Dollar Bill, a vision of sublime, soft loveliness, proving love is a tender thing, for that is what's been lavished here. This production is neither rude, nor boisterous; it pricks not, like thorn. Rather, it invites, charms, seduces and inveigles with its affectionate recapitulation of what is, probably, the quintessential romantic tragedy of and for all time. Bravo!
Riverside Productions and Phil Bathols present
Shakespeare’s R & J
Venue: Riverside Theatres | Cnr Market and Church Streets, Parramatta
Dates: Thursday 7 August- Saturday 23 August
Times: Thurs 7 Aug 6:30pm, Fri 8 Aug, Sat 9, Wed 13, Fri 15, Sat 16, Wed 20, Fri 22, Sat 23 Aug at 8:15pm; Mon 11 - Thurs 14 Aug, Mon 18 - Thurs 21 Aug at 11am; Sat 16 & Sat 23 Aug at 2:15pm
Tickets: Wed-Thurs Eve & Sat Matinee Adults $44, Conc & Groups $39, 30 & Under $31, 16 & Under $23
Weekday Matinees $23
Fri & Sat Eve Adults $47, Conc & Groups $42, 30 & Under $34, 16 & Under $26
Duration: 2 hours (approx)
Bookings: Riverside Box Office 02 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au