It’s been a long time since comedy and tragedy, those two enduring, opposing stalwarts of theatre were on unfriendly terms. Over the years, their relationship has defrosted somewhat, becoming ever more ambiguous as they learned to share the stage and the film reel. That trend of merging humour and drama continues with Jessica Hackett’s Romeo and Juliet, which plays out intimately to a small audience at Northcote Town Hall. Hackett’s light-hearted take on history’s most famous love tale elicits all the warmth, laughter, tomfoolery (and filth) from the Elizabethan script to create an endearingly jocular performance.
From the child-like frippery of Jayden Chivers’ and Sophia Constantine’s opening Jester chorus to their re-appearance as the hump-backed apothecary in the final act, these two fine actors steal the show when they appear and drive the comedic angle of the play through the dramatic tangles in the plot.
Not to be outdone, Phil Zacariah as Juliet’s Nanny fills the stage (literally) when he waddles on from Stage Right, alternately giggling or gasping into a hankie and bellowing ‘Nave!’ quite alarmingly at Mercutio’s retreating back. Unsurprising, since Mercutio and Benvolio are given leave by Clare Callow and Patrick Tucker, respectively, to positively wring out the most explicit material from the script. In between sword play and pelvic thrusts, however, Callow gives us one of the more poignant moments in the performance, culminating a gyrosocope of anger, defiance, confusion and mirth as Mercutio falls to Tybalt’s sword.
Supporting the actors in their endeavours is a basic but functional set, complete with balcony and castle wall/tomb that leaves plenty of room for the action in the relatively intimate studio, save perhaps for the occasional scene where the entire cast assembles onstage at once and everything becomes a little too complex to comprehend. Gladly, costume designer Terry Tubbs does a delightful job of outfitting the assemblage in Elizabethan robes and rapiers (Montagues in blue and Capulets in red), so that the tableau is visually arresting if a little confusing.
Resisting the temptation to modernise the performance a la Baz Lurhmann, Hackett’s production excels in maintaining a consistent, convivial tone throughout, allowing the tried and tested story of star-crossed lovers to transcend the costume, the setting and ‘Ye Olde Englishe’, keeping the tale relevant and fresh rather than drowning in melodrama.
The main exponents of this ideology in the production, of course, are Romeo and Juliet themselves: two teenagers locked in a forbidden tryst, suffering the pressures of their age and (their parents), just wanting to be left alone. Realising the need to play Romeo as such is Colin Cox who judges the character perfectly in the context of the production. His Montague is at once naïve and a cynic, dejected and flighty as he pursues the puppy love of Juliet. Juliet Hindmarsh provides a perfect foil to his dogged exuberance, with flirtation, indecision and foot-stomping stroppiness.
By juxtaposing a comedic outlook with moments of intense pathos, employing young and authentic actors and treating the script as a Stephanie Meyer novel, Jessica Hackett delivers an appealingly modern production that retains all the elements of the bards seminal work.
Eagle's Nest Theatre presents
Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jess Hackett
Venue: Northcote Town Hall, Studio 2 | 189 High St Northcote
Dates: May 25, 26, 30 @ 8pm; May 29 @ 5pm
Tickets: Adults $27, Concession / Child / Student $17