Sunday, 13 October 2013

STC's Romeo and Juliet - some observations

Eryn Jean Norvill as Juliet and Julie Forsyth as the Nurse. 
I saw Kip Williams' Sydney Theatre Company production of Romeo and Juliet on Friday night. The play, one of Shakespeare's early experiments with tragedy, is a good test of a director. It's a flawed work, relying too much on plot and too little on the substance of its titular characters. Juliet can shine, but Romeo rarely does. Often, we spend most of the second half of the play longing to get to the crypt and be done. There can be a lot of shouting. Too often, we grin at the vagaries of Verona's postal service rather than lament lives lost young. The play requires an inventive director.

Kip's production has a lot of good ideas and makes the play work better than it often does. 

Here was a drama about Juliet and her family, not about 'two households, both alike in dignity'. There was barely a Montague in sight. Juliet even gives us the play's opening prologue. This reshaping of the play was a welcome shift, and allowed the show to land with a terrific surprise ending that gave Juliet new voice. Just like Miss Julie over at Belvoir, this Juliet didn't suicide, but instead turned on the accused adults armed with a gun. She stole some text from what used to be the Prince's final speeches to stick the point home.

There was also a seamless use of Shakespeare's most famous sonnet, 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments.' When Friar Laurence married Romeo and Juliet to take us to interval, he spoke this sonnet, as contemporary marriage celebrants so often do, and even threw in a bit of 1 Corinthians 13. It made emotional and conceptual sense. When Romeo and Juliet first meet at the ball, they share a sonnet. And the prologues to both Acts 1 and 2 are in sonnet form. It seemed a natural inclusion.

Kip clearly loves the Drama Theatre's infamous double revolve. He uses it pretty well, if perhaps a little over eagerly, managing to make the early parts of the play spin out with inventive physical life. But he can embrace stillness when required, too. The tomb is made of maybe a dozen gleaming white double beds - a very simple idea, but very striking.

In Eryn Jean Norvill he has a sharp and sassy Juliet. In Colin Moody, he has a Capulet that shows us how technique and raw passion can happily and tellingly coexist, and why it is necessary that they do so. On an evening when command of voice and phrasing was often left wanting, at least these two grappled and won. A good thing, too: the production revolves around them.

There are a lot of arresting directors around at the moment. Great to see, and good to see this smart attack on a troubled play.

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