After watching a rehearsal process and a Q&A session three weeks prior to the show with the director Rachel O’Riordan this was one of my many questions to her. Her response is that no one could ever know what Shakespeare wanted. However her interpretation was that she wanted to demonstrate how the gritty and conflicted world Romeo and Juliet were brought up in affected them. I was excited to see how Rachel would manage to transform Romeo and Juliet into making it a completely new experience, yet remain true to the language. After watching the performance, she exceeded exceptionally in this task. This was a performance that showed more truth than any performance of Romeo and Juliet I’ve seen.
The set was gritty with torn up posters on the back wall while grungy non-diegetic music played in the performance space. This was the first sign of the underlying corruption between the Capulet’s and Montague’s. The second sign? The fight scene, sharply choreographed by Kevin McCurdy. The actors flew around the stage with hatred and vengeance. The audience knew that this was a performance that would grasp all the needless anger within the play.
I loved the casting of this production, using actors from different backgrounds and different regions made the production a collection of different accents showing the main focus on the hatred rather that the time or setting. The accents brought the play even more to life, however at times due to the energy of the performance some of the words were hard to understand.
What everyone was waiting for was, the two actors playing the famous lovers, Romeo and Juliet. To me personally, Juliet was the character to be most disliked; she is generally played to be fragile, whiny and false. However the brilliant Sophie Melville stunned the audience with a modernised and a more feisty re-enactment of her. Sophie and Chris Gordon (playing Romeo) were the perfect double for the famous lovers, their chemistry on stage seemed so true to how Romeo and Juliet should have been played. When their eyes first meet you can tell they lust after each other, their banter and light-heartedness was so good to see due to the realisation of how young and naive the characters are. The balcony scene was honestly the best one I’ve ever seen. The staging of it to the way they acted it, so original yet I feel like there is no other way you could have played that scene.
Aside from the darkness of the play there were so many beautiful moments between certain characters. Anita Reynolds playing the Nurse showed such pizzazz throughout the first act she was a delight to watch, but when Juliet finds out Romeo is banished, on the line ‘Back foolish tears’ Sophie Melville was slapping the tears out of her face and all the Nurse can do but is watch, the emotion she carries just by her silence against Juliet’s cries is heart breaking.
Every actor brought their character/multiple of characters to life, from the energetic Scott Reid taking on Mercutio to the power behind Sean O’Callaghan’s performance taking on Montague and the Friar.
This was a performance that did everything Rachel said she wanted each scenographic aspect was captured perfectly from the lighting to the bold music. Even though one will never know if Romeo and Juliet were in love or just lustful doesn’t matter to me anymore. This performance showed me the truth behind their relationship and it showed me that maybe even Shakespeare wanted to create this ambiguity.
Overall it was a performance that shouldn’t be missed, it was a delight to see Rachel O’Riordan’s take on it and I can’t wait to see more productions in the future from her and the whole cast.