Romeo and Juliet

1 Aug

Passion is about me. Politics is about us.

George Bernard Shaw famously took issue with Shakespeare, arguing that the bard’s politics were naïve.

And consider Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare gives no explanation for the feud between the families. He makes the unlikely assertion that the warring groups are equal in strength. And the long lasting feud suddenly ends when the older generation realizes something that must have always been apparent – that it was harming the young. I can understand where GBS was coming from. This is not a play about politics.

It’s a play about passion. The purpose of the political context is to show us that the young lovers will risk all to be together. (Without some sort of impediment, desire is not a story.) Their decisions are rash and ill advised. If Othello is a tragedy of jealousy, and Macbeth of ambition, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of impulsiveness.

Photo by Eva Kiss

Photo by Eva Kiss

Rainee Lyleson as Juliet and Dan Webber as Romeo do a wonderful job of creating the two lovers, overwhelmed by passions greater than they have known. But a particular pleasure is watching these two actors develop these characters. They begin as almost children, but in the final third of the play, after they are separated, we watch them negotiate the world, no longer merely as excitable adolescents, but as adults who know that desire is but one aspect of life. As an example, Romeo’s dealings with the apothecary of Mantua are those of a man who desperately feels his own circumstances, but still has insight into the lives of others. Shakespeare’s famous, final, absurd scene counters this growing maturity – but that, I guess, is his point. Passion is powerful.

Director Stephen Wallace gets good performances from his entire cast. Byron Hajduczok as Mercutio and Rob Baird as Benvolio are eminently watchable. Alan Faulkner as Peter the servant, the prince, the apothecary and the prologue is superbly versatile. Adam Hatzimanolis gives a terrific portrait of the gloriously varied Capulet.

Much discussion of this production will centre on the decision to set it in the world of the Cronulla riots. I don’t think the play is political. Am I saying this decision is a mistake? Not all. It’s this sort of decision that opens up a play, making us revisit, and reconsider.

Shakespeare gave us a controversial play. It’s only fitting that our productions of our it are equally thought provoking.

Veronica Kaye

Romeo and Juliet

at King Street Theatre until 24 August


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