A fresh take on Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet comes to Melbourne’s east. Presented by Fresh Theatre, and in partnership with Maroondah Council, the street art covered walls of Ringwood’s laneways transform to become ‘fair Verona, where we lay our scene’.
After almost a year without live theatre, this production of Romeo and Juliet was like a refreshing cool drink of water after a long thirsty trek through a lock-down desert. Emma and I attended an opening weekend show and boy were we excited.
Staged outdoors, ‘The Backyard’ arts precinct makes an ideal backdrop for the this modern version of Romeo and Juliet. In fact this open air production is incredibly well suited to these crazy Covid times, with ample fresh air and plenty of space for social distancing.
This play maintains Shakespeare’s word, but its modern setting and creative direction make the material very accessible, even to audiences that may have never experienced Shakespeare before.
I wasn’t sure if Emma would be able to follow along, as Shakespeare’s plays are written in quite flowery language. My concerns were immediately allayed in the opening scene as the actors’ physicality conveyed as much of the story as the dialogue.
Then there was a fight scene, excellently choreographed by Jordan Stack, and just like that, we were in!
Being seated so close amongst the action made us feel like we ourselves were citizens of fair Verona, almost caught in the affray between the Montagues and Capulets.
Set in modern times, Romeo is a Doc Martens wearing Emo teen, (played by Liam Papic), his kinsman Benvolio is a hi-vis wearing tradie (Jordan Stack), who wields a shovel instead of a sword.
Papic plays the melancholic Romeo beautifully, his stooped shoulders and distant gaze evoking angsty teen emotion. A stark contrast to Emily Tambree’s Juliet, who is played as fresh faced and almost a bit naive, in the sweetest way. I mean Juliet is only 14 after all.
The casting overall was very good, and I found it refreshing that many of the the roles were non-gender conforming.
A highlight was Maeve Hook as Mercutio. Emma took quite a liking to her character and was quite upset and moved when Mercutio was killed (spoiler alert)!
There was much comic relief, and plenty of laughs to be had. Mark Anderson’s Peter was super funny with his larger than life physical comedy and expressive face.
A live band with original score composed by Musical Director MYAMI provides music throughout the night, including the party, wedding and tragic death scenes.
Director Shaz Mullens says, “The play is still really relevant today because of the context of family conflict. Family conflict is something that is recognisable and understood today, as much as it was 400 years ago.
“Fresh Theatre produces plays that have relevant social issues for the communities that they are being performed in, so our Romeo and Juliet tackles a lot of those issues, not just around family conflict, youth suicide and mental health, but also feminism and the role of women in today’s society,” Shaz declared.
“The play is a lot of fun, with plenty of funny moments and amusing characters amongst the drama and tragedy; you will find this will be a really enjoyable and uplifting evening regardless of the known outcome,” Shaz promised.
“The fact that Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy and we all know what’s coming, its pre-ordained from the moment you purchase tickets you know how Romeo and Juliet is going to end, that doesn’t detract from the joy you can feel seeing two young people falling in love for the first time along with the humour from some of the other characters that move around that,” she said.
And it’s true, that even though I did know how this tragic story would end, I loved every moment as we went along for the ride.
If was even more exciting watching the play through Emma’s eyes, who wasn’t familiar with the full story.
Emma was enraptured with the balcony scene, especially when Romeo stole a kiss from Juliet, shocked by Mercutio’s death, and was willing for Romeo to wake up (under her breath) after he took his life.
My only quibble, the audio was a bit patchy, with occasional feedback and volume issues. Also dress warm, or take a lap blanket as the night gets a bit chilly.
With only a few performances remaining, I highly recommend Romeo and Juliet by Fresh Theatre for your your live theatre fix!
Thursday, 25 February 2021 – 8.00PM to 10.00PM
Friday, 26 February 2021 – 8.00PM to 10.00PM
Saturday, 27 February 2021 – 8.00PM to 10.00PM
Sunday, 28 February 2021 – 8.00PM to 10.00PM
The Backyard. Civic Ln, Ringwood VIC 3134
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My Poppet attended this show as guests of Fresh Theatre for Social Change for the purposes of this review. All thoughts and opinions are our own.