BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET at Pop-up Globe Auckland
Reviewed by Glenda Pearce
"I have more care to stay than will to go"
Ask anyone, what is the greatest, most well-known, love story ever told and they'll say, "Romeo and Juliet".
Not only do we know the story, we know from the words of the Prologue, even as Shakespeare's audience did, that this is the fatal story of star-crossed lovers, who "do with their deaths bury their parents' strife". One of the most frequently performed plays of Shakespeare for 400 years, there are many challenges inherent in bringing the famous tragedy of the star-crossed lovers to the audience with a fresh perspective.Artistic director Dr Miles Gregory and his team of creative experts found a way to do just that - with engaging delivery, structural originality and calculated audience response. The pace of the action is rapid. The Prologue isn't even half delivered, foreshadowing the outcome (a clever touch - just in case we don't want to know the ending) before the warring street action and lively stage combat (Alexander Holloway) of the Montagues and Capulets rapidly fires us into the feud. We are already invested in finding out what will happen next. From this point forward, the scenes effortlessly interweave and smoothly overlap in precisely timed episodes. This synonymous juxtaposition is effective - we are reminded of what is happening in the world of passionate, love-driven Romeo (Darcy Kent) even as we are seeing what is happening in the world of clearly young and innocent, doll-playing Juliet (Jess Hong). This heightens the intensity of the dramatic irony of emotional moments such as when we watch the soft intimacy of Romeo and Juliet's marriage morning on the balcony already being threatened. Below them, well-meaning Lord Capulet (Stephen Lovatt) is promising to marry unsuspecting Juliet to the gentle, good-looking, teddy bear and flower-carrying Count Paris (Theo David) on Thursday next. The production is imaginatively staged, with well-anchored stage positions, and makes use of all of Shakespeare's spaces. For instance, the "trapdoor" becomes the vault, through which the dead bodies of Juliet and Tybalt are lowered ceremoniously in stilled, hushed silence.
Secondly, a number of carefully orchestrated "surprise" elements are adroitly interwoven so that we are never entirely able to anticipate what will happen next. This keeps everyone entirely engaged and entertained. Director Dr Giles Gregory has deliberately accessed the potential comic elements of the play and, in doing so, significantly lightens the action of the first half . Much of the comic action is deftly delivered to the groundlings, as it would have been in Shakespeare's time. The character of the Nurse (Amy Usherwood) is superbly created, with a lusty enthusiasm for her life, with comic panache, compelling facial expression and garrulous vocal delivery, and with psychological credibility. She continued to surprise and delight us throughout the play. As the love story progresses, we see much youthful delight from Juliet, a little (entirely credible) silliness, many dance scenes and well-executed movement (Brigid Costello) and musical interludes.The audience can forget (just for a while) the tragic outcome, as we watch even the famous balcony scene played out with a dexterously comic touch by Darcy Kent's Romeo. He moves compellingly from a smitten lovelorn wreck, to a natural love-filled comic, and determined impulsive lover, to a friend who will not let his friend's life be taken without payback, to a passionate lover, and finally to a grief-motivated husband no longer wishing to live without his love.
Other outstanding performances amongst a very talented cast come from Benvolio (Tom Wingfield) and larger-than-life Mercutio (Rutene Spooner), who are totally credible in their roles, with skillful comic delivery as well as subtle sensitivity, balancing the complexity of many of Shakespeare's characters. Lord Capulet (Stephen Lovatt) has his many sides captured with depth and truth, and we genuinely see his anger at Juliet's inexplicable refusal to marry Paris, which raises the emotional stakes.
Unexpected and innovative costume designs (Chantelle Gerrard) are part of the surprise. Known for creating the spectacular, Chantelle has co-ordinated a superb range of creative angles, such as the Queen Elizabeth look for the Prince (Renee Lyons), and creative and surprising Mardi Gras twists for those attending the masked ball, that contrast effectively against the beautiful, detailed classical designs and the juxtaposition of the contemporary costumes for the street fighters.
What makes any Shakespeare production great is the artistic director's ability to recognize and work with Shakespeare's text - his extraordinary ability to bring his characters to life by a simple turn of phrase, by a breath they take, by the pause they make, the looks they share, the jokes they make.
Without any doubt, all this is being superbly captured with comic twists, unanticipated fun, unexpected surprise elements, psychological truth and textual understanding by the entire team behind this edited production (2 hours and 15 minutes) at the Pop Up Globe. Don't miss out - see all of the final season of the Pop Up Globe's SUMMER OF LOVE.
Season runs December 13 - March 1