There is a popular trend in the independent theatre zeitgeist that embraces the raw, plays with intimacy and dances with variety; this trend is backyard theatre. With Anywhere festival embracing theatre in unconventional spaces in May each year, witnessing performance in outdoor spaces has become popular and Share House Theatre Company are embracing this popularity in Graceville during the warm summer nights.
Shakespeare in a backyard is truly a wonderful experience. It is like calling back to childhood fun and creative sparks that so many theatre lovers experienced when putting on shows for family members and teddy bears. It embraces the raw roots of performance with simplistic seating choices and creative adaptations of staging and design, yet captivates audiences with a unique experience and meticulous production. It is simultaneously familiar yet refreshing and a welcomed experience for independent theatre lovers.
Share House Theatre Company’s Bard in the Yard set a light and comfortable vibe not unlike a house party complete with warm welcomes, relaxed arrangements and an overall positive atmosphere. The work itself, however, was loaded with evidence of rigor, focus and clarity. While Romeo & Juliet may be one of the most well known and popular of Shakespeare’s works, the text itself maintains its potential to be daunting or bewildering if not given the time and detail it deserves. Director Josh Lyons brings clarity and purpose to the text, with the leading cast driving the work’s timeless provocations of love, loss, betrayal and frustration within a world where they lack control. While there are moments that sound design or modern references overshadow the essence of the words being said, Lyons ensures the text’s metaphors and messages are received with clarity.
Through a clever juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy from one half of the work to the other, Lyons also highlights the piece’s journey from angst to hope, to love and then to true heartbreak and devastation. Supporting characters Mercutio (Johanna Lyon), Benvolio (Rebekah Schmidt), the Nurse (Emma Black), and Friar Lawrence (Ben Warren) drive a strong comedic presence for the first act of the show, only to completely flip into a sincere and solemn vulnerability for the second act when thrown into a multitude of betrayals, losses and devastation. Meanwhile, leads Romeo (Mitch Wood) and Juliet (Caitlin Hill) maintain their strength through brooding teenage angst, comedic chemistry and all-consuming love, finally a snowballing rampage of heartbreak and tragedy from start to finish.
Hill brings a necessary youthful dexterity to Juliet in her love struck swoons, but more importantly she holds fragility and an underlying power to her presence when faced with oppression and repeated blows of devastation. Her pleads for choice and control over her future are pressing and potent as the show progresses, with heart and truth shining through her performance consistently. Wood’s Romeo is sincere yet tenacious with all of the gusto and heartache combining to create a resonating reminder of the young man’s age and mixed maturity levels. The duo have wonderful chemistry and both manage to hold the stage’s focus with each respective line without overshadowing one another’s performance. Their flow from one response to the next is mesmerizing and the two share a happy balance of comedic banter and heartfelt infatuation.
The work is filled to the brim with both cocky reinforcement of the text’s innuendos and cheeky references to the modern day house party environment. With female Mercutio and Benvolio using any chance they can to reference lust and ravishment a refreshing gender swap made way for a variety in portrayals of female sexuality beyond the usual Nurse and Juliet perspectives. The gender recasting was truly warranted with Lyon and Black using ferocious energy and proud ownership over their bold, and at times shockingly obscene, deliveries of hilarious and crude objectifications of men. Friar Lawrence, on the other hand, was loaded up with a beer bong and questionable narcotics, captivating the audience with sly deliveries and charming juxtapositions between his private and public identities. While occasionally the clowning and insinuations came off as overdone, the actors were committed and charming with captivating energy and strength behind their words.
The embracing of the tragic story in the second act was not only a welcomed shift from the flowery and indulgent parody of the first half, it was also an excellent opportunity to showcase the actors’ heartfelt honesty within the tragic piece’s tragic progression. Warren’s Friar Lawrence was a standout throughout the work, most ardently so in his moments of welcomed maturity amongst the teenage lovers’ devastation. His overall empathetic and profound speeches were delivered with harrowing and robust honesty, quickly becoming some of the strongest in the piece. A close follower is Schmidt’s Benvolio who’s unwavering dedication and loyalty towards her friends, alive and dead, brought a powerful contrast to the character’s sass and sly comments from the first act and showcased the actor’s range overall.
Although the production lead with many strong performances, there were unfortunately weak performances to counter it. While Brendan O’Leary displayed a considerable strength to his Lord Capulet during moments of stern discipline towards daughter Juliet, his heartbreak and sorrow during the final minutes of loss were melodramatic and overdone. Paula Araujo’s performance as Friar Joan was too rushed and breathy for her comedic performance to land with full effect, while her potential for a heartfelt performance as the heartbroken Lady Montague was detracted by a lack of projection worsened by a direction choice to face her back to the audience for the entirety of the prominent speech. Emily Youngberry’s irresolute and muffled performance as the Prince was the most unfortunate considering her role housed most of the politically significant messages within the work. With these weak performances the characters were dismissed as inconsistent or aloof, and therefore the production’s political messages were rendered as faint at best.
Despite some unfortunate weaknesses in casting, Share House Theatre Company’s production of Romeo & Juliet was otherwise heartfelt, honest and loaded with potential. With room for an incorporation of further design elements, alternative stage manipulation audience placement in a backyard setting, and countless other Shakespeare productions to choose from, Bard in the Yard is sure to move on and up from here.
– Written by Rhumer Diball March 15 2016
BARD IN THE YARD: ROMEO & JULIET PRESENTED BY SHARE HOUSE THEATRE COMPANY
THUR 2 – SAT 11 MAR 2017.
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