Reading into the rage

The Romeo/Juliet Complex (The Blacklight Collective)

Despite being a Shakespeare fangirl, I’m not overly fond of “Romeo and Juliet”. Or maybe it is because of this; there are so many other plays that could be explored and in the last three years I’ve seen six stage versions of the tragic tale, some honourably traditional, some outrageously modernised, but none quite like “The Romeo/Juliet Complex”.

There is something quite thought-provoking about exploring a text through its minor characters, as Tim Crouch showed in his “I, Malvolio” reimagining of “Twelfth Night” at last year’s Brisbane Festival. In this instance, it is the powerful parents of the story’s protagonists that are the focal point. Years before the fearful passage of their children’s death-mark’d love story, Lord and Lady Capulet meet the Master and Mistress of the House of Montague. The women become fast friends, while the patriarchs show a somewhat mutual respect of each other’s competitive obsession with the acquisition of power. Before long the Capulets have bethrothed their first-born daughter to Montague’s son. But as a town, Verona is messy and infidelity and addictions soon shatter the alliance and ultimately cause the new mutiny.

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While the majority of the show’s scenes explore the formation and fracture of the relationship between the families, as well as within their individual marriages, these are sometimes punctuated by snippets of Verona citizens in gossip session about the story’s scandalous events. While there is worth is sharing the responses of the Verona citizens, as observers of the action, the aggressive contrast of these scenes is a distraction. With sassy gay stereotypes and Kath and Kim type screeching of OMG-like reactions, the sections are frivolous more than funny and unfortunately detract from the powerful engagement of the bulk of the play.

Generally speaking, this is a polished and sophisticated take on the tragic tale, realised by some committed performances. Ethan Jones, in particular, delivers a mature, engrossing take on the cold Lord Montague, especially commendable given that he stepped into the role due to illness. However, all cast members give engaging performances in creation of this accessible production of the classic tale (during which the title characters barely appear and never really speak). Lighting is effective, with silhouetted figures delivering key narration in order to progress the narrative and there are some interesting design choices despite the limitations of the Northside Shed space.

While my feelings for the original text have not changed, I can say that adaptations such “The Romeo/Juliet Complex” should be embraced as they have the potential to help us re-imagine a wealth of wonderful literature. Unless you are fluent in Shakespeare’s story, however, you may not appreciate exactly what is going on within the relationship dramas being brought to life in this reading into the rage between the dignified houses of fair Verona.

You can find all of my Anywhere Theatre Festival reviews on the Festival website.

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