PERPETUATING THE CYCLES – OR NOT
Written by Sharman McDonald
Directed by Sarah Delahunty
at Circa Two, Wellington
From 25 May 2013 to 8 Jun 2013
Reviewed by John Smythe, 27 May 2013
I had never quite registered that Rosaline was a Capulet too – but yes, of course: the reason Romeo went to the Capulet's party was to see her, and then he went and fell for her cousin, Juliet …
Maybe it was because his love for Rosaline was unrequited that no-one got excited about her being a Capulet, what with him being a Montague and all. It was only because Juliet fell for him too that the ancient grudge that festered between the two households made Romeo and Juliet the star-crossed lovers whose consequent story of woe has remained so well-known through countless generations.
As Sharman McDonald sees it in her sequel play, After Juliet, Rosaline was playing hard to get but really did love him. And now that the tragedy has transpired, she is the one who is mooning about, over the loss of Romeo and also because of her unresolved bitterness towards Juliet, who was more beautiful, richer, always got what she wanted, and stole her secret love then let him die…
Verona is in stasis, what with both households agreeing to the Prince's demand for a truce while the trials proceed of Juliet's nurse, the servant Peter, Friar Lawrence and the Apothecary. And when that's over, someone is to be elected to head the ‘Cats', which seems to be the youth gang arm of the Capulet clan.
McDonald says set it wherever and whenever you like and a fleeting mention of Tauranga, plus the use of i-phones, does suggest 1st Gear Productions – directed by Sarah Delahunty – has opted for contemporary New Zealand, albeit one where sweltering heat is an issue (!) and swords are the formal weapon of choice, beyond everyday back-alley brawling.
Rachael Hillier's costume designs mark the Montagues in red and the Capulets in black and white or pale colours. Her set design features a rusting corrugated iron fence, a platform where the young Capulet women hang out, and a tangle of discarded ladders and netting where the Montague boys hide out to spy on them. Jason Longstaff's lighting abets the switches between objective and subjective realities, and the sound by Justin Pearce and Petar Andreijic (also the live musician) completes the production's excellent design elements.
The cast of twelve acquit themselves well, relating strongly to the circumstances, their roles and relationships. This play – and the others 1st Gear Productions have done – get closer, I believe, to the real-life concerns of this demographic than (dare I say it) devised shows about young people getting wasted in Courtenay Place.
Neenah Dekkers-Reihana is ideal casting as Rosaline, authentically navigating her progress from inner torment through expressing her true feelings to the dead Juliet to proving her prowess with the sword in staking her claim to lead the Cats.
She also has to cope with Benvolio (a Montague) being besotted with her – and Adam Groves plays the resisted lover well, avoiding wimpishness by showing assertiveness in his attitude to her smoking. More volatile is the late Malvolio's twin brother Valentine, intensely played by Jordan L Rivers.
On the Capulet side, teenage testosterone is effectively manifested in Maxwell Apse's Lorenzo and Ryan Knighton's Gianni, while Daniel Walker-Bowell's Petruchio (brother of the late Tybalt) stands strong on the side of peace and reconciliation.
Sylvie McCreanor is compelling as the mentally and emotionally disturbed Bianca and Alice Pearce adds a strong dose of humanity and compassion as her ever-attentive sister, Helena.
As the play progresses, the other young Capulet women – Livie (Catriona Tipene), Rhona (Gussie Larkin) and Alice (Iris Henderson) – variously distinguish themselves amid the morass or girlish concerns.
Rebecca Gumbley completes the cast in a rather too hurried cameo as Juliet's nurse, Angelica.
Inexorably the play focuses on the key question of whether the feud will continue or somehow be put to rest; all hinging on the election of the new leader. It's an interesting twist that Rosaline should be the one who wields the sword … And what of the Rosaline /Benvolio relationship …? Will history repeat itself or can the cycle be broken?
I leave with the feeling that this play is more subdued that the classical adaptations Sarah Delahunty has herself written for this group. Shakespeare was a master of interpolating comedy within his tragedies and although Sharman MacDonald's script is more of a sociological study, it would not be fair to say it is devoid of humour. I conclude this cast could have more fun with it by committing more strongly to their characters' passions, fallibilities, vulnerabilities and foibles.
Circa Theatre is to be congratulated for bringing 1st Gear Productions into Circa Two. Like its prequel, After Juliet is timeless in addressing the endless perpetuation of violence in a world that continues to subvert the human quest for peace and love … for what?
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