PACT Theatre, Erskineville
Until 9th October
The bard’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo & Juliet, is not a new one. It’s old in the sense that you’ve read it before in high school English class, seen at least one amateur stage production of it, and the play itself was written some few hundred years ago. Yes, it’s a classic – but probably one you’ve filed away in the “cultured but stale” drawer to pull out at opportune moments.
It’s promising then that the Sydney Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet keeps the audience’s interest throughout. No, these aren’t the glitzy gun-toting Montagues and Capulets of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film of the same name, just an honest, no-frills production of the original, faithful to the core. The stage is simple but pleasing, and the characters sport the familiar half-capes and stockings characteristic of Shakespeare’s works set in medieval Italy.
Where the production shines through is in the honesty and humour of the characters. It’s clear the actors are having the fun Shakespeare intended when Steven Hopley parades around as the irredeemable pun-dropping Mercutio, or Jack Mitchell’s clueless yet sassy Peter. The Montague and Capulet parents are regal and commanding – though their behaviour really brings home certain facts about the horrible medieval treatment of women that still persists, in many ways, today. Emily Weare does an outstanding job as the slightly irresponsible and long-suffering nurse, dominating the stage whenever she appears.
But cliched as it may feel, it’s the interaction between Romeo and Juliet that bring this production to life. Benjamin Winckle portrays the confused, love-smitten Romeo well, but it’s Emilia Stubb-Grigoriou’s Juliet that sweeps it away. Gone are the wistful, sighing, middle-distance-gazing mannerisms of many classic Shakespeare performances, to be replaced with pouts, carefree enthusiasm and the manic distractedness of a twelve-year-old. Emilia reminds us with her absurdly expressive face that Juliet is nothing more than an early teenager, helping bring perspective a great deal of reality into the old classic.
If you’re not beyond the power of the bard’s words to recall, the Sydney Shakespeare Company’s Romeo & Juliet is an excellent reacquaintance with the cleverness and power of his work.