Left - Josephine Were (as Juliet) and Tom Conroy (as Romeo). Cover - Michaela Cantwell (as Lady Montague) and Tom Conroy (as Juliet). Photos - Shane Reid
I’m confused. Wherefore indeed art thou, Romeo? If it’s wearing or carrying a blue scarf, it’s Juliet, and if it’s got a leather jacket and a funny hat it’s Romeo, “irregardless” (one might as well say), of the gender, or which actor it was a minute ago.
But, however, and nevertheless, this is a brave interpretation of a time-honoured script, and no-one could doubt the talent of the six actors, who slip in and out of all twenty-one of the roles with remarkable acuity and enormous skill. But is it worth it?
The cynic might say that, sure it’s worth it, because you can have the whole play with six actors, which is much cheaper than hiring 21 of them! I hope this was not the motivation, and to do SA Theatre Company - and Director and conceptualiser, Geordie Brookman - justice, it is unlikely. He is an intensely creative and imaginative director, and certainly a rising star in the Australian Theatre firmament, and this, his latest venture, is indeed a courageous one.
From the very beginning, in a lofty, featureless set of black nothings, one is made aware that this will be different. Looking backwards from the prologue, we find the two lovers already dead, and then the story is pieced together to its tragic denoument in a smooth jigsaw of changeable scenes with interchangeable actors playing out the growing catastrophe.
Great credit must go to the lighting design (by Geoff Cobham) which singles out poignant and pertinent parts and becomes a principal player in its own right. Similarly, the music (by Andrew Howard) supports the drama and the tension as it builds.
The first part is just saved from flagging by the well choreographed (by Larissa McGowan), imaginative and dramatic fight between Tybalt, Mercutio and Romeo. Much is made of the opportunities the Bard gives for sexual innuendo (almost to the point of undergraduate humour with much groin grabbing), but the second half reaches higher levels, with a great use of three storeys (What would R and J be without a balcony!?) , even though the gender confusion persisted. The convincing emotional levels reached by these fine actors towards the tragic ending were palpable in spite of that, and this was echoed in the audience which left the theatre in silence. I don’t think it was just confusion, or that it left them “so unsatisfied”.
Some might say that we do need (yet another!) totally new look at this amazing, poignant and every-day story. Are we too familiar with it – (endless school productions, new versions, 1920’s gangster versions, West Side Stories, 1970’s suburban versions...) ? Has it become too familiar to the cognoscenti? Or is this particularly confronting style, “too rash, too unadvised, too sudden”? Or even, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”?
Be part of it, and let the audience decide.
State Theatre Company of SA presents
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 6 - 29 August 2010