Romeo and Juliet, doing it in the Botanic Gardens

Zounds! It is odd to watch a tale of high passions – the love of Romeo and Juliet concealed from their feuding families, Montague and Capulet  – and not be engaged. Despite this, The Australian Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet delivers some enjoyable performances in the pleasant setting of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Australian Shakespeare Company: Romeo and Juliet
Australian Shakespeare Company: Romeo and Juliet

I don’t just go to a Shakespeare performance to watch a story, I also go to hear the language. Particularly in the first half I found this a challenge. The young buck Montagues and Capulets projected impetuous vigour, but often seemed to think rapid delivery was essential for menace. With so much dialog going by in a blur, I thought we were in for a long night. These fellows did redeem themselves as far as the action goes: the execution of Felicity Steel’s choreography of the sword fighting scenes brought a sense of danger and there was some fitting “rude” humour in their antics out on the town after downing some carafes of vino, but even here the japes would have gone over better if the jests were decipherable.

As Capulet, Brendan O’Connor shows why he’s the head of his house. The patriach thoroughly enjoys his masquerade ball one moment and with bristling authority smacks down challenges from the young Capulets in another, also giving lessons on enunciation and how to flesh out a character.  Madeleine Field gives a credible and present performance as Juliet, a girl growing into a woman dizzy with love for Romeo, and Jamieson Caldwell’s Romeo steps up after interval, leaving behind his dreaminess and embracing desire and longing. As this is Romeo and Juliet, most other characters don’t get a lot to do, but some make the most of limited opportunity. Anthony Rive as Peter, complete with toothy grin, has fun with his simpleton servant of the Capulet house and Nick Backstrom’s Friar is given appropriate decorum and thoughtfulness.

A friend remarked that it is amazing that Shakespeare is performed so widely so many years after his plays were written. Australians can be thankful to The Australian Shakespeare Company for giving us the opportunity to partake of these in theatres, or as here, enjoy the rambunctious use of panoramic staging allowed by an outdoors performance. Huzzah!

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