Directed by Paige Newmark
Designed by Jake Newby and Ingrid Proos
Featuring Rose Riley and Cody Fern, Kristian Barron, Anna Brockway, Nick Candy, James Hagan, Glenn Hall, Stephen Lee, Sam Longley, Claire Munday, Will O’Mahoney and Nick Pages Oliver
7 January – 5 March 2011
There seems to be a prevailing notion that West Australians lose all interest in the theatre from November until the Festival rolls into town in mid-February.
We should be grateful, then, that a succession of production houses has given us a summertime Shakespeare in King’s Park. And it’s more the pity that this year’s is such a disappointment.
In part it’s the fault of the play selection. Much of Shakespeare is well suited to a summer night in a park, but in such a setting Romeo and Juliet loses the intimacy of its lovers and the sickening pallor of the death of the young that lie at its poetic heart. Lost, too, is the claustrophobia of the close streets and walled gardens of Verona, where every chance encounter can easily end with taunts and blades, until one leads to love and disaster.
None of this is necessarily fatal, but director Paige Newmark doesn’t solve any of these problems, and creates many more besides.
There are times, most excruciatingly during Capulet’s (Stephen Lee) weird North Country ranting at Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris (Kristian Barron) when the urge for flight all but overcame me. It’s unfair to single him out, though; other seasoned members of the cast had similar over-the-top episodes that surely would have been tempered by more sure-handed and sensitive direction.
Of the supporting performances, only Will O’Mahoney’s fiery Mercutio delivered the sort of surprise and humanity that are the great strengths of Shakespeare’s characterisation. His death, after one of Andy Fraser’s excellently staged swordfights, had a fey courage as gripping as you’d see anywhere.
Romeo and Juliet belongs to its heroine, and Rose Riley, who is only a couple of years older than the girl she plays, brought impressive beauty and strength to the work. She doesn’t yet have the range to fully realise the massive complexities of this great character, but there’s little doubt it will come, and soon.
A lot more work remains ahead of Cody Fern. Romeo may not have to be as boundless as the sea, as is Juliet, but Fern still has a mighty mountain of poetry to climb, and at times the challenge pretty much overcame him.
None of their efforts were helped by some misguided interpretations, most disconcertingly in the justly famous scene where the lovely and heartbreaking realisation by the young lovers that their one (and, as the audience knows, only) night together is over was reduced from high poetic drama to something akin to an exchange on Facebook after lights out.
An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 12.1.11 here