‘Romeo and Juliet’ Reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by February 11, 2014

‘Romeo and Juliet’ written by William Shakespeare, is presented by the Upstart Theatre Company and proudly supported by The City of Fremantle for Fringeworld 2014. Following last year’s sell-out, smash hit ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ this bold, two and a half hour contemporary production can be seen at the PS Art Space, 22 Pakenham Street, Fremantle, nightly until Sunday 16th February. All performances commence at 7.30 pm.

The newly renovated venue is wonderful. Gone are the damp cobbles, intertwined with pollen-laden soil and dirt, having been replaced by a new, polished concrete floor that gives a much warmer feel to the venue, coupled with improved sound properties. As there are no seats for the whole performance, – the audience move from one scene to another – the floor is much easier on the legs.

 I will not give a rundown of this very well-known storyline, but simply list the characters. The teamwork was outstanding, and under the guidance of the innovative and courageous director, Garreth Bradshaw, the cast were stretched to the limit of their acting abilities. Each character, no matter how simply stated or minor in the text came alive with unique mannerisms and personality.

The whole cast was stunning, and it seems unfair to pick out a few for special mention, however, extraordinary performances were given by the first few below:-

 Romeo Montague (Daley King) demonstrated his total frustration at struggling to be with Juliet. Excellent enunciation.

The demure, diminutive 14 year-old, Juliet Capulet (Madelaine Page) is presented perfectly as heartbroken on being separated from her love, by her manipulating mother.

Lady Capulet (Sally Bruce), normally played as a slightly disinterested mild mother, was shown here to have real anger and fire in her belly.

The Cockney nurse (Hannah Day), dressed in a Madonna style, gold lamé dress, was – on appearances – the kind of woman that no one would employ as a babysitter, however, she gave a most moving performance at the loss of her ‘child’.

The self-assured Tybalt (Jordan Gallagher) gave an astounding fight scene.

The rough, streetwise, Mercutio (Patrick Downes) really put fear into everyone he encountered.

Friar Francis (Richard Mellick) is usually depicted as a quiet, pious priest; however, Richard took the final scene to a new level, when he confessed to supplying the drugs and laid his soul bare.

The supporting cast of Benvolio (Nic Doig), Sampson (Amy Murray), the wimpish County Paris (Keifer Short) and The Prince (Garreth Bradshaw) brought further humour and tension to the play.

 

The very large stage / floor has several scene areas, the street, the church, the Friar’s rooms, a kitchen and Juliet’s chamber. The performers subtly act as sheepdogs, herding the audience to the appropriate area. Because of the intimacy, and most of the acting was within arm’s length, you felt as though you are right at the centre of the family battles or a voyeur in the boudoir.

The funeral service for Juliet was heart-rending, one of the most moving scenes I have experienced in the theatre, as the mourners (the audience) followed the bier, accompanied by the dirge-like tune, ‘Salvation’.

The occasional contemporary music was supplemented by music specially composed by the local musicians, ‘The Men from another Place’. Wandering minstrel, Richard Mellick leading the ensemble in the final chorus.

The lighting of silver festoons of fairy lights, glowed beautifully against the simple white set. The  Stage Manager of this complex production was Rebecca Thompson. Costume design, from the sublime to the weird, was by Sally Phipps.

Andy Fraser directed the fight scenes between the families, with épais and rapiers crashing – not just the usual foils – the movements and choreography of the combatants was complex and at times horrifying. The producers gave the show the tag of R18, which is a slight exaggeration; considering the sexy but restrained scenes, and the violence, an M or MA would perhaps be nearer the mark.

There was a great deal of humour in the script, but I felt that the audience were slightly embarrassed to laugh at some very droll comments.

This truly is a special version of this theatrical favourite, with all of the characters studied and depicted as they should have been – no punches pulled. ‘Upstart’ has a reputation for quality and this was another success to add to their collection. Magnificent.