It isn’t that unusual to be a-wanderin’ around Queens Park, in Moonee Ponds, just north of Melbourne, and see a setup for what appears to be a wedding. Unless, of course, that setup is occupied by an aged, withered Juliet of Capulet, forlornly cooing “Come night, come Romeo.” But that is what happened to a whole lot of innocent bystanders one a balmy February afternoon, and they were quick to abandon their walk, to take in the spectacle that was taking place before them. Guess they didn’t know Sly Rat Theatre was in town.
Hang on, you say…Juliet of Capulet? Aged and withered? But what was all that about drinking poison, plunging daggers into breasts, dying but a teenager, becoming a martyr of innocence and love amidst the hatred and fury of houses Capulet and Montague? It’s worth repeating; Sly Rat Theatre is in town.
This isn’t just Shakespeare outdoors, up to which thee may wander, plonk thyself down upon the ground, not to tell sad stories of the death of kings, but to help thyself to the show. This is Alan Chambers’ vision for “Romeo and Juliet”. Given his vision for “The Tempest” this time last year, we were all excited.
The pop soundtrack welcomed everyone to the grounds, before Victoria Haslam’s Juliet was wheeled onstage in a form we’ve never seen her before, facing the final curtain as a heartbroken old woman, a stage in life this most beloved of Shakespearean characters never got to see, all to the flesh-tinglingly haunting and eye-wateringly beautiful recording of Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”. The tone was instantly set.
Before her eyes, and ours, cometh the play, as a flashback, a vision of what might have been, had only Juliet followed her heart, instead of her father’s orders. It is a concept that touches anyone – we all have that one who got away, and Juliet personifies that intense love that comes first, and comes fast, and smashed and dies hardest of all. For her not to have lived it, and let it destroy her, takes the play to a whole new level, where death becomes a fantasy, and life takes it’s slow, withering course.
Performing in the open is no simple task; wind howls, birds screech, crazy people shout from the distance, dogs bark, and voices dissipate into the ether. But the actors here are clear as day, using their voices brilliantly, but still remaining connected to their performances, a combination that seldom goes hand in hand, but for the most skilled performers. Chambers’ recreations of Shakespeare are not conventional by any stretch, but they are not overtly departures, and remain true to the intention, and timeless power, of their source material. Even some of the more bizarre choices, such as the party scene in which Juliet, played by Haslam in the flashbacks as well, meets Masashi Shimamoto’s Romeo, or the moment in which memory rifts off into fantasy, retain their emotional gravitas, because of the respect for the words, written four centuries ago.
Though the actors are being put through their paces, all rise to the occasion. Of particular note are Alex Aldrich’s ostentatious choices for the Nurse, Brendan Ewing’s extravagant, yet intimate Mercutio,, and the perpetually magnificent Katharine Innes as Lady Capulet, who lends subtle, unseeable-but-feelable force to a role that demands much more than many realize; she is at various stages a tormented mother, a grieving matriarch, and in Sly Rat’s hands, a malevolent warrior.
But this is Victoria Haslam’s show, embodying the looming specter of the earthly form’s slow and inevitable disintegration one moment, and springing vivaciously with the sprightly naivety of the thirteen-year-old, eternal icon of lovestruck youth the next. She was, in her finest moments, the center of us all.
Alan Chambers has again pulled off a show both moving, jovial, and surreal. The scenes between Shimamoto and Letitia Sutherland’s Friar Laurence even verge upon the comically unsettling, matching the intense atmosphere he achieved with his magical rendition of “The Tempest”. To say that “Romeo and Juliet” was as visually stunning or atmospheric is far from a criticism, on the contrary, it is original, powerful, and hits every one of its ambitious marks.
Review by Max Davine
This is a FREE EVENT by Sly Rat Theatre. Fri – Sun Feb 9,10,11 16,17,18
Queen’s park, Moonee Ponds