Romeo and Juliet

In a modern take on the age-old tragedy from the newly formed Sydney Classic Theatre Company, a young cast sit and send texts while others fight, deliver prose and provide some moments of laughter in one of the world’s most famous, bleakest romances.

The Montague-Capulet brawls are replete with rock music and a few denim jackets. The few older cast members stand in stark contrast to their much younger counterparts – appropriate in a play which begins with a bunch of teenagers crashing a party.

The cast work well as an ensemble, performing best when in a melee or confrontation, lacking the same lustre when delivering a soliloquy or stepping out to face the audience directly. The fights are slightly rougher in parts than is generally common – there’s no punching the air six inches from some Montague’s face – the theatre is intimate and you can hear the grunts and thuds. Despite being confined to a slightly crowded stage at Marrickville’s Factory Theatre, the cast manage well, pulling off crucial scenes, including that of Romeo meeting Juliet at her balcony.

The supporting cast are the stand-outs of this production – in particular Mercutio, played by a young woman. A traditional and iconic male role, dimensions are aptly added to Romeo’s best mate as she taunts not only Romeo and his crew but teases the Capulets as well. An extended and emphatic speech by Mercutio early on in the play is more engaging than just about any other, running around the stage and capturing our attention better than any later lament by the star-crossed lovers.

The actress who played Mercutio could ably have been cast in one of the prominent female roles, which would perhaps have been unfortunate given it would have denied her the best lines in the play. The actor who played Tybalt also managed to set himself aside from the rest of the cast, despite his short-lived stage presence.

The deaths of these two characters [while certainly necessary for the play] were unfortunate in that they deprived the audience of some of the most interesting cast members, parting in this case being such sweet sorrow.

Both the Friar and the Nurse, providing advice and crucial support for Romeo and Juliet respectively, managed to infuse even some of the most tense moments in the play with a bit of a laugh – hard to do when you know so many of the most endearing characters are about to die.

It is very rare to see a Shakespeare play performed word-for-word; even Kenneth Branagh’s bold experiment Hamlet was cut down to a 2-hour version to make it more consumable for audiences. This production cuts down on the dialogue – choosing to perform one key scene toward the end of the first half through action, without any dialogue at all. It worked – we all know what happens and we didn’t need it shoved down our throats as a matter of course; the physical interactions between the three characters on stage lending itself to one of the production’s more funny and heart-warming moments.

For a debut production, cutting back parts of the text was a risky move which paid off, allowing the cast to share in more verbal and physical sparring. On stage together, they are much more comfortable trading barbs or punches than sharing their character’s inner-most thoughts, with these scenes certainly the most entertaining parts of the play.

With an adept take on the classic play and wise casting, the company’s debut production managed to deliver a comfortably familiar yet engaging tragedy, even getting the audience to laugh a few times along the way.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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