Romeo and Juliet manages to reside as both a popular and unpopular Shakespearean work. Popular because of its exploration of the human condition and personified love and unpopular because it’s basically a Disney princess play that has been adapted far too many times in our contemporary world. Therefore, it was very brave of Todd MacDonald, who coincidentally is also the director of the play, to include a modernised version of it in La Boite’s 2019 season as it’s easier to do a Shakespeare wrong than to do it right. In collaboration with QUT Third Year Acting Students, this performance had its merits, unfortunately, the gamble with the Bard did not pay off.
Romeo (Jack Bannister) and Juliet (Darcy Gooda) were poorly cast; they struggled with their chemistry and surprisingly, with their diction and speech patterns. Gooda’s portrayal of Juliet was very mechanic, with all of her dialogue moulding together into one massive stanza with no rhythm, patterns or full stops. Similarly, Bannister’s dialogue was very rushed, to the point where it was difficult to decipher what he was saying. It was in those moments that I was grateful that I’d already known the script off by heart, but the patrons behind me didn’t and were often asking each other what was happening. But what annoyed me the most, was that they didn’t convince me that they were their characters; Juliet wasn’t day-dreamy, innocent or whiney nor was Romeo immature, reckless or overly sensitive.
However, although the leads were weak, the supporting actors were phenomenal. Bridget Boyle stole the show as the Nurse and had the audience eating into the palm of her hand with her bawdy remarks and nervous interjections. Eugene Gilfedder shone in his sympathetic and kind-hearted portrayal of Friar Lawrence, adding dimensions to the character that I hadn’t yet thought of before. Although he had very limited stage time, Nikhil Singh’s portrayal of Paris is what I imagined that Romeo would be like; a teenage boy head over heels in love with Juliet who deeply cares for her and would do anything to protect her and make her happy. Grady Ferricks-Rosevear’s brought Mercutio’s lightning-quick wit and mischievous nature to a new level and was a definite scene stealer, none more so when he illustrated his romantic sentiments.
Anthony Spinaze’s set design, while appearing minimalist was exceptionally versatile, with hidden trap doors and compartments, none more impressive than the Capulet’s monument, an image that will stay for me for quite some time. Nigel Poulton’s fight choreography was on the mark, with the feud between Mercutio and Tybalt (Wei Lan Zhong) being so stylised and at performed at such high-energy that it seemed painfully real for the audience. The entire scene was beautifully executed in its design, with the bodies of Mercutio and Tybalt being laid on a red sheet and dragged off stage by the other characters, complimented by an electrifying soundscape by Anna Whitaker. Katie Sfetkidis lighting design was remarkable, especially the balcony scene in which the night sky is somehow projected from the panels in the set onto the ceiling.
Overall, the production felt too rushed. Many beautiful moments were merely brushed upon, dialogue was lost and the ending didn’t resolve. Unlike the foundational text, there was no resolution between the characters nor was there any comment on the titular characters deaths, which is at the heart of the work.
This work has potential but still has to find its ‘heart’, as without a heart, as that’s what’s at core of the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet.
Directed by Todd MacDonald
Performed by La Boite and the QUT BFA Acting Third Year Students
Hero image | Dylan Evans
Production shots | Stephen Henry