When woe wins

Shakespeare Pick and (re)Mix (Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)

Elements Collective

October 14 – 21

Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet walk into a bar… but only grouping gets to stay. Last week the great Dane’s play-within-a-play persuasion saw Fringe Brisbane audiences experiencing the hijinks of a bite-sized “Hamlet”, however, in the second outing of Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s “Shakespeare Pick and (re)Mix”, it is the Bard’s best (and well known) story of woe that is to be the 30 minutes or so traffic of the stage.

A half-hour tragedy obviously requires a lot of cuts, which occur mostly in exposition. In Rob Pensalfini’s adaption of “Romeo and Juliet”, there is still a Queen Mab mention and a more straight-talking balcony scene thanks to Leah Fitzgerald Quinn’s forthright representation of the only daughter of the never seen Lord Capulet. The play’s iconic lines are also all still there, with a deliberate play up of their bawdiness in any other part belonging to a man et al mentions. While she does double duty as the Prince of Cats Tybalt, Rebecca Murphy is brilliant as Juliet’s maternal servant nurse, obviously fond of talking at length and lewd in her references to love. And Rebekah Schmidt gives us an especially spirited ‘can I get an Amen’ Friar Lawrence, in addition to taking on role as the quick-witted Mercutio.

“Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,” Juliet implores in impatient wait for night to fall so that she can celebrate her wedding night with Romeo (Dudley Powell). The almost aside quote is particularly apt for inclusion in this drastically cut-down version of the classic of the English cannon, as it captures the approach fostered by Rebecca Murphy’s detailed direction. Things are sometimes quite frenzied as players swap in and out of roles, which even sees Fitzgerald Quinn’s switching from Juliet to then become Romeo’s manservant Balthazar to tell him of Juliet’s supposed death and offer to sell him some poison so that he can join Juliet in death in the Capulets’ burial vault. And the energy then crescendos theatre sports style as encores see the ensemble t giving us the story in three and then one minute tellings, to end in a hilarious triumph.

At show’s start, the audience is divided down the middle and allocated in allegiance to either Capulet or Montague, to cheer jeer and alike in response to on stage interactions between the two feuding Verona families. The result is lots of fun with literal “he’s behind you” and “look over there” type pantomime moments, as Elizabethan audience engagement would likely have been at the time of the play’s first presentation at The Globe … not to mention the cross dressing of Powell as Lady Capulet, costume malfunctions and all. Audience involvement is also easily integrated through volunteer participation in the story’s iconic masquerade ball dance, with musical accompaniment from Liliana Macarone and Angus Thorburn.  

All elements combine to make this “Romeo and Juliet” a very accessible bite-sized way into Shakespeare’s work. It’s all lots of fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It does, however, leave you wanting to see how the other options would have been handled and hope that though the QSE’s 2022 Fringe Brisbane run is over, we will hopefully see the show back again sometime in the future. In meantime, there always the Ensemble’s production on the Scottish play coming next month.