DELIGHTFUL BLEND OF FAMILIAR CLASSICAL MOMENTS, DEPARTURES AND VARIATIONS
THIS FAIR VERONA
PlayShop Performance Company
Directed by Lori Leigh
Assistant directed by Sam Phillips
at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 15 Oct 2013 to 19 Oct 2013
Reviewed by John Smythe, 16 Oct 2013
Playshop is on to another winner with This Fair Verona, under the directorial tutelage of Dr Lori Leigh.
But first, if host (and assistant director) Sam Phillips' “never before!” was meant to suggest this is the first time Wellington has seen Shakespeare improvised, let us recall one of The Improvisors' greatest hits, Show Us Your Willy, followed in 2010 by Shakespeare the Musical. That said, we have never seen this particular story before, and never will again, such is the nature of improv.
Rather than create a whole new story from a range on ‘ask fors' – beginning with choosing from comical, tragical, historical or pastoral – This Fair Verona arguably makes it easier for itself by sticking to, or at least starting with, the Romeo and Juliet plot, or premise.
What they ask for is a location, a character quality and a theme for the Capulet's party. We offer Zealandia, like a cheeky monkey (for Romeo), and a Harry Potter theme.
The titular casting is also determined by an audience member – one Alex this night – who picks tiles from a bag to declare James Cain as Romeo and Simon Haren as Juliet. Remaining roles are claimed as required by the ensemble as the story develops, although I suppose it is inevitable that Sam Phillips takes the ‘Duke' role in the guise of Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.
The native bush setting is well incorporated and Romeo incurs the wrath of a Capulet (Phillipa Drakeford) by toting a rifle to bag himself a tasty meal. The obligatory Capulet v Montague enmity is thus established.
Meanwhile Juliet, having bled last night, as reported by an ecstatic Nurse (Isobel MacKinnon), is pronounced ready for marriage by her Mother (Stevie Hancox-Monk). Plans are made for her to become engaged to Paris (Will Robertson) at the Harry Potter-themed party – which Romeo, Benvolio (Drakeford) and Mercutio (Rose Cann) duly crash.
Potteresque elements are also incorporated with great flair: Severus Snape and Dumbledore are referenced early, Mercutio delights in Slytherin puns and a labyrinth is a recurring image thanks to judicious placings of the boxes in Emma Nicols' splendid setting.
Dressed to evoke London's Globe Theatre, the space is backed by construction design prototype sketches for the embroidered hangings Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand made for that esteemed venue: the globe on Atlas's shoulders with New Zealand to the fore. Costume designer Harriet Denby provides a fine array of Elizabethan costume elements, and Dan Wilson's lighting design, operated by Rowan McShane, completes the excellent creative design support.
Back to the story … Having been told that the only certainty is that two people will fall in love, it is, of course, no surprise when R & J do. And the discovery that Romeo is a Montague is well utilised as a major turning point to intensify the ensuing drama.
Although we do get the lovers camping out in Zealandia and Romeo being banished – to the wilderness of Wairarapa – aficionados must cancel expectations that, for example, Tybalt will even appear let alone be slain by Romeo (it is Paris who gets it in this night's variation), that a Friar will marry R & J or that an Apothecary will concoct a brew to facilitate a subterfuge that is destined to go horribly wrong. This is not to say such elements will not occur on other nights, but they are not part of this night's improvised plot.
With excellent musical accompaniment from Touchan Stubbs – Theo Taylor and Stephanie Cairns – the tale trips along at a good pace, punctuated by soliloquies (usually ordained by Phillips). Sometimes these moments of ‘direct address' create a bit of confusion when it is unclear whether we, the audience, are being asked to make further offers to progress the plot.
Johnathan Price does pop up as a random character in the Wairarapa to change the course of the story but rather than concoct the aforementioned brew, he facilitates the reunion of the star-crossed lovers via the labyrinth. It is the departures from, and variations on, the well-known original that keep us fascinated as much as our recognition of classical moments.
The requirement to contain it all within an hour does bring proceedings to a rather abrupt end, happily in this case, in that both lovers survive! In place of an epilogue, a set-piece dance that morphs into a curtain call puts a delightful end on this never before /never again iteration of This Fair Verona.
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Laurie Atkinson (The Dominion Post);