Sunday, May 13, 2012

Romeo (BANISHED!) and Juliet by QTC

(Source: Queensland Theatre Company)
To describe Queensland Theatre Company's Romeo and Juliet in the same category of what people are saying (debacle, horrific, atrocious etc.) would be a bit of an over-statement, but it is pretty dreadful - this is the kind of production where you check your watch for the time, several times, wishing that it would just finish so you can go and live your life. It's a shallow adaptation that features a cast which don't gel together, in a design that isn't really unified or used well, under some abysmal direction.

Melanie Zanneti (Juliet) and Thomas
Larkin (Romeo) (Source: Queensland Theatre Company).
I was initially really excited to see the play since the revised artwork is gorgeous, and I love the work of almost all the actors included. Because of the end result, it was pretty disappointing to . . . see them in this work. Melanie Zanneti (who was the best part of Pygmalion last year) gives a convincing performance as a teenager. But much like the pitch of her voice, her portrayed moods are like a yo-yo. There seemed to be no calm in between her genuinely joyous outbursts and her neurotic bemoaning of the world. She has two distinct methods of delivering her lines - one being this youthful, bright and girlish tone which makes her sound like a child, the other being reserved for moments of woe, which is this low demonic incantation which is so cacophonous it could summon the dinosaurs dating from as far back as the early stages of the Paleozoic era back from extinction. It seems as though she hasn't got any direction on how to play the character one way, so each scene is pretty unpredictable. Thomas Larkin as Romeo is pretty much what you'd expect him to be: Thomas Larkin as Romeo. Considering he hasn't even styled his hair differently, the whole demeanour of his character feels identical of his work as Orlando from La Boite's As You Like It earlier this year. I know it's inappropriate to come into a theatre with pre-concieved ideas, but in this case it's very easy to draw parallels since the two shows are spaced so closely together. Between the two of them, there doesn't really seem to be any immense driving passion or spark, and it's very apparent that what you're seeing on stage is just a temporary love story.

The older members of the cast are a pleasure to watch, my favourites being the always wonderful Andrea Moor and Steven Grives who capture the audience when on stage. The star of the show is Caroline Kennison (I love her!!!), her performance is the highlight, bringing the much needed comedic relief and emotion to the stage. Seems though the young ensemble of males spent more time working on their bodies than on forging a concrete emotional connection with the audience, or working on how to enunciate 'Tybalt' properly (sounded like 'Tibbles'). Casting Veronica Neave as Mercutio is a directional decision that is wretched beyond comprehension. She throws herself into the role, animated and raunchy, but she just doesn't manage to conquer the pointlessness of the decision. She's also made out to be a sexual deviant, with every line involving some kind of pelvic thrust - I wanted Jennifer Flowers to personally go and apologise to the LGBT rights movement that was being conducted outside for adding so much embarrassing homosexual innuendo. There are moments where the entire cast work and there is this wonderful confluence between them, but it's so lopsided and rarely occurs.
The opening scene (Source: XS Entertainment).

The design of the show isn't really that impressive, despite the attempt to open with a truly opulent and lavish display. Bill Haycock's set, a disgusting poisonous yellow and green, looks like something summoned out of the ruins of Chernobyl. The front of the stage features a large crescent moon pool, which is featured in the opening with a superbly beautiful spectacle - it then remains almost entirely neglected until the climax of the piece. Although it's not visually appealing, it has potential, which is very misused with some baffling stage direction. The original soundscape, written by Phil Slade, rarely does anything remarkable, and while it has some great moments it serves as ambient music and the transitions being brief, violent rhythmic strikes on strings (which sound very similar to the Rite of Spring). The fight choreography was really flimsy too.

There are highlights of the show, which are things that I'll happily discuss. The opening of the production was enchanting, and there is an exquisite interlude when Juliet's body is laid down in the mausoleum. For that 30 seconds or so, everything on stage - lighting, sound, movement - all come together. The show actually had one of the best moments of theatre I'd ever seen - it's the moment was when Mercutio is wounded. She's dragged offstage while saying "A curse on your houses", and just when she's out of sight and you think that it's the end, she CLAWS onto the wall, shakes her fist in the air and wails "YOURRR HOUSSSESS!". All she needed was a witch's hat and a crystal ball to cradle while adding "I'll get you, my pretty!" and I would have given them a standing ovation. I SHRIEKED with laughter at the sheer ridiculousness and subsequently every time I thought of the scene I burst out laughing again, much to the dismay of the weeping teenagers in front of me. I also loved the way the actors all delivered the word 'BANISHED!', which was always conducted in an over-blown wail. It was almost like someone wanted to make the first half of the play into a comedy.

Ultimately the fatal flaw in this production was the direction. Given the timing of the season, the brevity of the script, and the chorus of actors, I'd say that QTC would have assembled this production to be a direct competition with La Boite's annual Shakespeare, and tried to emulate their success. With the amount of six pacs on display (any male under 30 ran around stage with their shirts open or off, for no apparent reason) I'd forgive you if initially thought this was a Berthold production. But unlike a Berthold Shakespeare production, Flowers' vision of Shakespeare is really, really lacking - in casting, contenet, and in the theme. Saying that the theme of the play is 'love' is a little broad, but it feels as if Flowers didn't fully understand how or care to assemble a dramatically truncated adaptation of the text to create a work that brings out the emotion or a long-lasting message or question for the audience to reflect on.

Disappointingly, QTC's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is nothing special, since it just flails in every single element. The cast, while all very talented individuals, have no real chemistry between each other and their portrayal of characters leave much to be desired. The technical design elements, with rare exceptions, are nothing special, and the directing is just so clumsy - it just feels like QTC wanted to do something that made them appeal to more audiences but their design just came across as a knock-off, which is a shame because this could have been something incredible

Tickets for 'Romeo and Juliet range from $30-$79 (plus a $5 booking fee, God knows why because you can print your tickets at home), and is showing until May 13th. Duration of 2 hours and 10 minutes. Book by visiting Queensland Theatre Company's website.

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