Thursday, 15 January 2004

Romeo & Juliet in The Gardens, Jan 15, 2004

 Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 
The Australian Shakespeare Company
 Botanical Gardens,  Gate F, Dec 2003  until March 6, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 15, 2004

Published in Herald Sun on Jan 19, 2004

Thanks to The Australian Shakespeare Company, we now have a long tradition of summer Shakespeare in the Park akin to cities such as New York.

This year Greg Carroll  directs Romeo and Juliet. The production is the similar to previous years but changes in casting and location and individual style and banter make it feel new.

As usual, the actors perform on the perfect set: the Botanical Gardens lush greenery and the twitter of occasional nights birds may not evoke Verona  in the fifteenth century but they provide atmosphere.

Actors enter from amongst the audience or through the foliage. Juliet appears as if by magic in the top of a tree for her balcony scene.

If you have been livings on Mars and do not know the story, here it is.

Romeo (Philip Cameron Smith) falls in love with Juliet, (Andrea McEwen) the daughter of a rival family. He kills her cousin, Tybalt,  (Brendan O'Connor) and it all ends in tears and death for both the lovers.

The adaptation makes Shakespeare accessible to everyone. It is colourful, cheeky and peppered with boyish banter and harmless Shakespearian innuendo.

Playing intimate love scenes outdoors is difficult but Andrea McEwen brings a delicacy and bright childlikeness to Juliet. Cameron Smith seems more at home in his scenes with Romeo's mates  than in love scenes.

A highlight is the rakish fight scene between Romeo's friend, Mercutio,  (Kevin Hopkins OK) Tybalt and Romeo himself. It is feisty, funny and has an edge of thrilling danger.

Ross Williams  plays Juliet's father, Capulet  is beautifully observed. He portrays him delightfully as a vain society father who is good humoured until he is defied.

Dennis Coard  finds a slightly bawdy and vulnerable edge to Friar Lawrence  while Anthony Rive  as Romeo's loyal comrade, Benvolio,  is a sympathetic and mischievous character.

There are dignified performances from Helen Hopkins as Lady Capulet  and Peter Hosking  as Romeo's father.

Christie Sistrunk  seems awkward as Juliet's impish Nurse  and looks too young for the role.

The incidental music and the additional songs add a new and contemporary dimension to the production. "A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers" is a very singable tune with poignant lyrics.

Remember the woollies and a blanket. It can get cool out there.

By Kate Herbert

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