Queensland Theatre Company's latest offering for theatre goers is Shakespeare's timeless classic Romeo & Juliet. Although this play was written over 400 years ago, it's still holds a prominent place in popular culture. Perhaps this is due to the generations of high school students across this country who are exposed to the text, or perhaps because of the Hollywood reincarnation offered by Baz Luhrmann in the mid nineties. It's a plot most literary-aware people are familiar with, and it seems unlikely that your typical QTC audience member isn't going to have some form of relationship associated with this glorious piece of Shakespearian text. What might also come along with it is an expectation of what a full scale professional production of Romeo & Juliet could have the potential to be.
So, how does Queensland's flagship professional theatre company bring Romeo & Juliet to life and satisfy such an aware audience, a play revered for its lyrical eloquence and adored for its exquisite tragedy? How do you do this without disappointing? It's certainly a challenge, one that director Jennifer Flowers took on by refraining from lavish sets and costumes, and by adding a dash of chaotic, pulse raising, original music by Phil Slade. Flowers also injected some appetite-whetting stage movement and choreography, created by choreographer Lisa Wilson. The lighting design by David Walters contributed wonderfully to many of the tableaus, creating stage images that swung from the surreal to the sublime.
The actors' performances and ability to handle the text, laden with couplet after couplet of verse, varied greatly across the ensemble and for the most part was disappointing. The most memorable performances of the evening (the first preview night) were Veronica Neave's delicious portrayal of Mercutio and Caroline Kennison's endearing and larger than life performance of Nurse. In the title roles, Thomas Larkin as Romeo and Melanie Zanetti as Juliet convincingly communicated the naivety and juvenility of the young lovers, however unfortunately, chemistry between the two was lacking. Perhaps the fact that this performance was the first this cast had performed for a live audience was the reason why a lot of the vocal performances sounded rushed and came across as lacklustre. At no time throughout the performance, (with the exception of Neave's and Kennison's performances) was I drawn in emotionally, or swept up in the dizzying trance I know I can be transported to via Shakespeare's text when it's delivered in just the right way.
Other aspects of this production that added to my sense of disappointment was the austere nature of the set design and the over simplistic costuming. While this did work to throw a spotlight on the text, as per Jennifer Flowers' vision for the show, in other ways it didn't work. It felt as though the actors had been thrown out into the middle of the desert with Shakespeare's tome of works and been told to find their way back to civilisation with the prose as their only compass. At one point the combination of set, costume and lighting design evoked the mental images of the science fiction film Star Wars (i.e. Luke's time on his home planet Tatooine) and the TV show Star Trek. I was waiting for someone to say, "Beam me up Shakespeare." Yet the use of water on the set and the backdrop of stars high above the set that looked 'cut out' (as per Juliet's line '...and cut him out in little stars,') were whimsical and delightful touches.
This interpretation of Romeo & Juliet was a jarring experience. A two hour marathon without interval, where I was drawn in momentarily and tantalisingly for brief moments through the aesthetics (and I'm not talking about the scantily clad young male actors, whose six packs were on view). I was never really carried along for the rollercoaster ride of misguided youthful love/lust, warring families, bawdy humour, violence, or the tragedy in the drastic and ill-timed actions of the hero and heroine. Queensland Theatre Company's production of Romeo & Juliet had the potential to deliver so much, but very sadly (even tragically) missed the mark.
Queensland Theatre Company presents
Romeo & Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Director Jennifer Flowers
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Dates: 21 April – 13 May, 2012