Bursting with the energy of youth and fuelled by vodka, hormones and the addictive madness of first lust, Sydney Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet is a stunning modern interpretation that reworks Shakespeare’s classic love story into a tale of teenage rebellion fit for a new generation.
Director Kip Williams has staged a bold production that uses funky costuming, a killer soundtrack, and a young spirited cast of Australian theatre’s rising stars to shake up its 400-year-old script.
With underwear clad girls downing bottles of champagne and boys quite literally swinging from the chandeliers, we are introduced to a world that screams of the dangers of excess; rich kids with too much money and too much time, warning of the destructive path that we are so familiar with.
There is always the question of whether modern audiences will still be able to connect with two barely pubescent lovers, without the corsets and castles that seem to legitimise their hasty but passionate romance. After all, in an age of poetry and duelling, dating must have been a little more intense right? Maybe not.
What Williams does so successfully is focus on the idea of awkward but blinding teenage infatuation and the hormone driven impulsiveness so often battling with parental authority and societal expectations.
This adaptation is less about the war between two great houses than a great war within one. In a fresh directorial decision, the Montague family is present only in the lines of the other characters, and the focus is instead on the sheltered and frustrated Juliet, played by Eryn Jean Norvil, at odds with her cold mother (Anna Lise Phillip) and domineering father (Colin Moody).
The cast, shaved down effectively from twenty to ten roles, is a terrific ensemble. Norvil’s Juliet is wittier than usual, her sharp tongue aided by excellent chemistry with the flirty and fabulous Nurse (Julie Forsyth) and Dylan Young brings a challenging truth to the iconic role of Romeo, morphing from starry-eyed and smitten to an angry and anguished young man.
He is endeared to us most successfully, however, through the help of his friends Mercutio (Eamon Farren) and Benvolio (Akos Armont), whose camaraderie and larrikinism are the most effective reminders that our hero and heroine are really just kids. Farren is a standout as the smart-mouthed but playful cynic whose performance is so effectively charming that his death cuts like the knife that slays him. Moreover, he is an example of how physical comedy is used in this production to inject a level of fun and humour not normally associated with this particular Shakespearean tragedy.
“Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast”, the Friar (Mitchell Butel) cautions Romeo, in a piece of advice that foreshadows the inevitable fate of these two impulsive teenagers. As the second act hurtles toward its final scene, it is clear that this explosive cocktail of youthful naivety, reckless fun and rebellious spirit will be their downfall, and it is not just the loss of life but more distinctly the loss of young lives not yet fully lived that ultimately devastates.
One of the world’s most well known plays can still shock and shatter its audience: such is the true achievement of this production.
Romeo and Juliet is at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until November 2. For more information and tickets visit: http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2013/romeo-and-juliet.aspx