An evening under a summer’s sky awaits you with some of the most famous romantic lines of all time in Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s newest outing, Romeo And Juliet. Set outdoors in St Kilda Botanic Garden’s beautiful Rose Garden, tucked between gravel paths and sheltered by glorious tall hedges, it feels very Elizabethan. Amongst the surrounding sights and sounds of laughter, evening picnics, playful crowds, crying babes, and with parachuters falling from the sky above you(I jest not), this setting is redolent of the great ambiance of Shakespeare’s main home theatre, the open-roofed Globe Theatre of London.
This lively and engaging presentation from an experienced troupe of actors will have you laughing whilst tugging at your heart strings in all the right moments. A famous tale of two star-crossed lovers, the two hours traffic of this stage is set on readymade brick steps and inside a petite rotunda. A cast of 17 will enter you with their hilariously named costumes( in case you need to know who’s who), ribald dancing, pop-singalongs, acrobatic tumbling, and excellent vocal delivery from characters such as Mercutio, Friar Laurence, Juliet’s Nurse, and my first ever female Tybalt.
Led by the UK trained exceptional Director Jennifer Sarah Dean, this version is physical romp and madcap hilarity as this company do so well- with singalongs. An ensemble effort, the pace is steady and they are there to ensure you enjoy yourself. It’s not ‘Laurence Olivier in tights’ Shakespeare, a Victorian invention. It’s physical punning and post-modern ironic comment on the lines whilst delivering them in a robust manner.
This version has its own mini back up band led by Benjamin Colley, featuring a trumpet playing Mercutio (could this character get any cooler?). Song was always a big feature of live theatre in Will’s day and this company masterfully tie scenes and plot changes together with barbershop renditions of Lady Gaga, Pat Benatar and, movingly, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at its tragic denouement. The choreography of resident dance guy John Reed is, typically, fantastic, making good use of the brick rostrum with fanned steps, platforms, levels, and crossings for dramatic interest, and he plays a cute Paris to boot as part of the Capulet’s Crew.
The very young protagonists of this piece are of course, 14 year old Juliet, from the rich family Capulet, and the infatuated teen, Romeo, from a blood-feuding other side, Montague, here played by the gorgeous youngsters Joanna Halliday and earnestly handsome Matthew Connell. Both actors get into the import of their very famous lines and are cinematic. As with all good plots, the two fall in love but, also, afoul of their parent’s blessing. You must see this story once in your life and MSC’s versions are an easy way to be introduced to the genre and the lines. The ending is moving, centrestage, and the first time this company has not presented a standard, happy one.
As usual, set design and costuming are clever, funny, animation-like and flambuoyant. Karli -Rose Laredo’s namesake letterboxes of the warring families are great, and Rhiannon Irving does not disappointment her fans by presenting garb that comments cleverly on character and setting. Capital letter titles are sewn onto pant legs and make it easy, from afar, to watch the action and follow the plot. Think jockey’s clothing crossed with 1930s golfer attire, with plaids, checks, caps, braces, masks, all a steampunk delight.
Paul Robertson is excellent as Juliet’s father, overbearing yet loving, but Tref Gare steals the show as a tall, lean Nursemaid with Scots accent and silly walks, enjoying his spotlight with great employment of physical comedy and fantastic facial expressions. Hunter Perske’s diction is top drawer as Friar Laurence and he brings spirit to this fraught intermediary role. All the second tier cast bring derring do to their roles- an excellent comic drunk Carly Ellis as Benvolio, heartfelt Andy Song as best friend Balthasar, and cheeky bravado from the audience’s perennial star, Karl Richmond’s Mercutio, said to be Will’s ode to himself as writer and actor-playboy. Richmond is all over poseur, and is an excellent version of this all to short-lived wonderboy.
Seeing this play outdoors from a company expert in physical presentation is an outstanding way to introduce yourself to a classic romance gone wrong. If you are already acquainted with this work, come along for an evening of high-energy, itself a knowing commentary on the art of playing, also. You are in very capable hands.
Another first class rendition full of cheek. Congratulations, Melbourne Shakespeare Company!
– Sarah Wallace
is the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones, Melbourne. A performing arts and literature graduate of VCA, UOM and Deakin, she has a flair for bold, non-traditional performance platforms. An active contributor to The Melbourne Shakespeare Society, on the street, or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
Romeo & Juliet shows 6-16 December, 7pm Wednesday – Saturday, 2pm Saturday-Sunday (90mins) at The Rose Garden, St Kilda Botanical Gardens. Book tickets here. The venue is accessible.
Sign up for December Shakespearean speech and fight workshops here.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Melbourne Shakespeare Company.
Images: Burke Photography.