Ten years ago I saw the Australian Shakespeare Company perform Romeo & Juliet at the Athenaeum theatre in Melbourne. Performed by their youth program, Bravehearts (as it was previously known), the magic and tragedy of Shakespeare’s most famous star-crossed lovers was beautifully brought to life. The actors in the lead roles were age appropriate and made the outrageous plot of a teenage crush that ultimately kills six people believable.
The current production of Romeo & Juliet is performed against the stunning backdrop of Ripponlea Estate, and the mansion takes center stage in this production. Lit up like Disneyland, the actors are overshadowed by the majesty of the building and lost in the vast space of the gardens.
It’s not uncommon to play with the time and place of Shakespeare’s work; the transformative and everlasting brilliance of the Bard transcends time and space in all manner of productions. Australian Shakespeare Company has made the bold choice to dress the actors in the bright costumes of a Bollywood musical. It’s a colourful display and really comes to life during the first dance number.
Costuming and cast wise is where the Indian influences begin and end. The Capulet family is of Indian origin and Montague’s are Caucasian bringing in the element of race to this doomed love story. The exotic themes could have been explored more thoroughly as Bollywood eventually gave way to Western culture and the unique aspects of the play reverted back to the traditional.
Sound issues plagued the performance as different performers dropped in and out of their microphones and wind noise was distracting. With the cast at the mercy of the elements and without the safety of an enclosed theater, they were remarkable at keeping up the energy and pace, projecting through sound problems and making performances as large as possible to reach those furthest away.
Recent Victorian College of the Arts graduates Samuel Rowe as Romeo and Ayesha Madon as Juliet were charmingly naïve as the title characters. Rowe counteracted the melancholic energy of Romeo with sword fighting skills and a lighting fast pace when summoned by his ladylove. Madon played a subservient Juliet, being pushed around by all those in her life. Her balcony scene made excellent use of the Mansion, however I would have liked to see more defiance and strength from her performance.
With notable performances by Paul Morris as Mercutio, he was an absolute joy, playfully taking control of scenes and Charlie Mycroft as Benvolio, who’s sincerity and understated performance brought some depth to the otherwise lightweight production.
Currently celebrating their 30th year as Australia’s largest independent theatre company, the stalwart of “Shakespeare Under the Stars” continues to present the classics to audiences much to their delight.
Australian Shakespeare Company presents
Romeo & Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Director Glenn Elston
Venue: Rippon Lea House and Gardens | 192 Hotham St, Elsternwick VIC (entry via main gate on Hotham St)
Dates: 4 – 21 March, 2019
Tickets: $25 – $110