Heather Bloom reviews The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet for Australian Stage. See the review in its original context here.
Zoey Dawson’s feminist adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous play, and perhaps the world’s most iconic love story, The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet, takes the male driven plot of Capulet vs. Montague and shifts the focus to Juliet, Shakespeare’s most often quoted heroine.
The all female cast of six are required to switch in and out of roles with five of the actresses performing the role of Romeo throughout the play. Only one character remains steadfast, Juliet, the centre of this story is played by the wonderful Brigid Gallacher (Circle Mirror Transformation, MTC) who constantly reminds the audience that Juliet is just a child, a 13-year-old girl preparing to be married off by her tyrant father.
Dressed in virginal white, all six actresses use the huge space at fortyfivedownstairs to their advantage, running across the stage at breakneck speed, laughing, fighting and playing their masculine roles with glee. The feminine interpretation of the masculine is a major theme in this production that was borne out of an honors project in 2010 by Dawson. Each Romeo is essentially a different person, and therefore represents a different emotion. From the lamentable “mopey emo” still in love with Rosalind to the spontaneous and chaotic lover besotted with Juliet, the vengeful killer of Tybalt and the desperate man prepared to take his own life for the girl he loves.
As each actress tackles an aspect of Romeo, clear boundaries are drawn between his emotions and show his unpredictability. Each actress also portrays other characters of the famous play. Nikki Shiels as Mercutio is simply breathtaking, her respect and use of Shakespeare’s language is exceptional, as is her comedic ability and stage presence. Devon Lang Wilton slips effortlessly between Lady Capulet, Benvolio and Paris so much so that her transformation is as seamless as it is glorious.
Naomi Rukavina is devilish as Tybalt and gorgeous as the romantic Romeo audiences have swooned over for centuries, while Laura Maitland and Carolyn Butler both ham it up on stage and work some comedy into the “lamentable tragedy.”
A hilarious “fake death” scene is only exceeded by a terrifyingly real death scene in which Juliet takes her own life and the reality of the situation sets in. Here is a girl who only days ago was a happy 13-year-old playing with her dolls before being turned upside down by those around her. Her father, mother, betrothed, nurse and lover all took it upon themselves to denote what was best for Juliet, and in turn, are responsible for her death.
Dawson’s script and the talented array of actors offer a unique examination into the masculine and feminine roles that have been dictated for over 400 years. This is Shakespeare unmasked and a fascinating look into the psychology of Juliet. Shakespeare purists beware, this is the bard unlike you’ve ever seen him before.