BWW Review: Melbourne Shakespeare Company's ROMEO & JULIET at St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Review by Kathleen Reynolds
Melbourne Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet rejuvenates the classic love story with modern pop songs and refreshed dialogue to suit audiences of all ages.
If Juliet was born in 1990, chances are she'd be singing "No Scrubs" by TLC at the very thought of getting married to a guy she's not interested in. At Melbourne Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, you can experience this.
Tucked away in the gorgeous Rose Garden of the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, the play adds elements of song, dance and some modern adjustments of dialogue to give the classic play a fresh twist. This family-friendly version is adapted to be more accessible for a wide audience so we can easily decipher the play's complex storyline. However, if you're a true Shakespeare fan, don't let this deter you. Expect to indulge in the classic Shakespearean language and escape into a beautiful love story.
In fact, one of the most noteworthy points of this play (for me) was its ability to truly transport you into the imaginary world of the Capulets and Montagues. Surrounded by the smell of fresh roses, the play's centre piece is the Rose Garden's rotunda which primarily acts as Juliet's room. The set itself is simple yet effective in translating the various locations of the play to the audience. However, what I truly loved was gazing into the background of the scenes. You'll often find the many of the cast wondering through the garden, or tending to the rose bushes. This helps the space feel like a small village rather than merely a typical stage in a theatre, there are so many entry and exit points to play with. It truly is a wonderful use of space and brilliant direction by Jennifer Sarah Dean.
Whilst the location was a fitting choice for the play, you've got to be prepared for the Melbourne weather. In theory, it's a wondering idea to have an outdoor theatre in summer, but just remember to bring anything you'll need to cope with the elements. This play goes ahead rain, hail or shine!
The show's masked ball scene, where Romeo first sees Juliet, is a hilarious combination of old meets new. Once the cast started singing "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas and "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga, I knew we were in for a treat. The ball turns into a modern-day nightclub, which will have you laughing out loud. The scene is matched with quirky choreography by John Reed, who also plays "Paris". Though I wouldn't come to this show to see spectacular technique, the motive behind these numbers is to entertain, not to simply show off their pirouettes. The cast make the tight choreography work by putting their personalities into the numbers and deliver a unique performance.
You can tell the cast have really thought about their characters deeply. In particular, your value for money is wisely spent just to see the many faces and characters of Tref Gare who plays both the Nurse and the Prince with astonishing diversity. It's an easy laugh to see a male dressed up as a female nurse who tends on Juliet's every wish. However, Tref Gare's performance is hilarious, eccentric and unpredictable - he's full of surprises. From the tone of his voice to the prance in his step, Gare is certainly a crowd favourite. Later in the show, he morphs back and forth between the Prince and Nurse, all inclusive of completely different accents and character motives - it's incredible to watch!
Hats off to the talented Joanna Halliday and Matthew Connell as Romeo and Juliet. Their performances are passionate, articulate and empathetic. We feel every single moment of their joy and heartbreak throughout the play. Halliday and Connell enunciate the often-dizzying dialogue with precision and charm, which is an accomplishment in itself. They are the perfect match to tell this timeless love story in a modern tone.
If you want to enjoy a romantic tale with a fun musical twist at a stage surrounded by roses, this show is for you. Added bonus - fur babies are welcome.
You can see Melbourne Shakespeare Company's Romeo and Juliet at St Kilda Botanical Garden until Sunday 16th of December 2018.