Shakespeare's R&JPhotos - Heidrun Lohr

We grow accustomed in these modern times
To divers takes on Shakespeare's classic lines
And though 'tis true the technique can get tired
Our players here doth render it inspired

Ok I'll quit with the verse now. But I can't help it. The zeal of this layered re-imagining of Romeo & Juliet is truly infectious.

Four schoolboys, all repressed of energy, in Catholic boys' school where we lay our scene. After the vagaries of a normal day in which the Catholic worldview is methodically drilled into them, the boys find some respite in a play they decide to act out. The play of course is R&J, and the two hours' traffic of the stage sees them slip deeper into self-expression as they go at first from adolescent mocking to soulful re-enactment as the magic of the play takes hold.

The play is advertised as 'a four-man testosterone-pumped Romeo & Juliet', but this is misleading. It's more about empathy than hormones - a sense of stepping outside yourself and inside another, where new worlds are discovered. Sure, there are gay undertones from time to time, but they are mild and thankfully do not ever hijack the scene. The last thing we need is another overwrought coming-out story.

No, Shakespeare remains centre stage in Joe Calarco's adaptation, directed here by Craig Ilott. Nine-tenths of the play is Romeo & Juliet itself, with the occasional sprinkling in of lines from A Midsummer Night's Dream or one of Shakespeare's sonnets. What's captivating is the way Calarco's characters explore and blend with the themes of the original text. The pull and anguish of freedom, forbidden love and masculinity are as alive as ever, but also given new dimensions. As the four boys play all the characters, it is interesting to watch the shift in their portrayals too.

The four young actors are flawless and interchangeably brilliant. Their grasp of the language drives the performance, which, though perfectly paced, nonetheless charges through the text at some speed. Simple but effective stagecraft heightens the performances and lays bare the emotional stakes.

All the while, Shakespeare's beautiful and enduring verse tumbles out, trippingly on the tongue. And that's the true test of any adaptation of this kind, to my mind. To highlight the magic of the original text, to make it accessible, natural and relevant. To make these powerful stories come alive 400 years after they were written. Call it a success then, and fittingly so this play forms part of the VCE drama curriculum. Catch it while it's here or as it tours around the country.

Shakespeare’s R&J
Adapted by Joe Calarco

Director Craig Ilott

Riverside Theatres, Parramatta – April 22 -30
Albury  - June 3-4
Riverside Theatres, Parramatta – June 17 - 19
Taree – June 22
Dubbo – June 24 - 25
Seymour Centre, Sydney – June 29 – July 3

Queanbeyan - June 8-12

The Arts Centre, Melbourne – May 4 -8
Sale – May 11 - 12
Shepparton– May 17
Bendigo– May 19 – 20
Horsham – May 23
Geelong – May 26 – 29
Ballarat – June 1

Gardens Theatre, QUT, Brisbane – July 12 - 17

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