La Boite Theatre Company brings William Shakespeare’s enduring tale of star-cross’d lovers to the stage with a few modern touches, starring several impressive third-year acting students from Queensland University of Technology, most making their professional debuts.

Jack Bannister and Darcy Gooda in La Boite’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo © Stephen Henry

It is one of the oldest and most frequently performed plays in the English canon – boy meets girl, they fall in love and their three-day affair ends with six bodies in the ground, including their own. Shakespeare’s visceral tale of feuding families and teenage urgency, arguably his most well-known, has endured as a classic for over 400 years, remade and reimagined in innumerable productions.

Directed by Artistic Director and CEO Todd MacDonald, La Boite’s streamlined adaptation is played straight through without interval, maintaining much of the original script but adding modern music and costuming (although, thankfully, avoiding the temptation to substitute swords for modern weapons). The most noticeable cuts in this adaptation were the sonnet prologue and the closing lines delivered by the Prince, the recognisable bookends of this work. The ongoing partnership between La Boite and QUT Creative Industries placed emerging artists alongside renowned senior artists Eugene Gilfedder, Colin Smith, Kerith Atkinson, and Bridget Boyle in this production, where they certainly held their own.

Kerith Atkinson in La Boite’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo © Stephen Henry

Jack Bannister and Darcy Gooda delivered startling, exceptional performances as Romeo and Juliet, and brought to their roles the absolute conviction and all-consuming emotion of teenagers in love. Gooda’s Juliet had more defiant strength in her naïveté and less airy passivity than many portrayals, while Bannister was authentically transformed by Romeo’s storm of emotions throughout the work. The dynamic between the two performers was electric, and even in their representation of awkward teenagers they brought a naturalism and sense of genuine meaning to the language of the well-worn script.

The leaders of the feuding families were combined for this adaptation. Kerith Atkinson represented the Capulets as an aloof and furious matriarch, skilfully balancing her character as the unquestionable head of the household but also as a mother. Colin Smith represented the Montagues as a more reserved, quietly dignified character. This conflation of characters also reduced the body count, since Lady Montague does not die of grief when her son is exiled. Eugene Gilfedder embodied the sage and steadfast Friar Laurence, and Bridget Boyle switched effortlessly between the gravitas of Verona’s Prince Escalus and the feisty, fumbling good intentions of Juliet’s Nurse. Her grief at Juliet’s bedside with Kerith Atkinson’s Capulet was chilling. In the role of Benvolio, Nicole Hoskins sang with a clear, strong voice, and Nikhil Singh was a courteous and likeable Paris. Wei Lan Zhong was steely-eyed and self-assured as Tybalt, and Grady Ferricks-Rosevear’s Mercutio was larger than life.

Grady Ferricks-Rosevear and Wei Lan Zhong in La Boite’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo © Stephen Henry

Costuming by Anthony Spinaze was modern but sufficiently simple so that it did not create a disconnect between the language and the aesthetic. Similarly, the addition of modern music and dance choreography brought the work closer to the modern era without being overpowering. The set design, also by Spinaze, was deceptively minimalist, but impressively versatile. Lighting design by Katie Sfetkidis and sound design by Anna Whitaker dictated the intensity of emotion in each scene, particularly in high-energy moments like Mercutio and Tybalt’s duel, while the highly physical fight choreography by Nigel Poulton was performed admirably but felt overplayed at times.

The staging of this work created impactful, memorable visuals, most notably the Prince’s announcement of Romeo’s exile over the slain Mercutio and Tybalt, and the silent wedding of the titular characters. This production of Romeo and Juliet was performed in the round, directly addressing all sides of the stage at different times, but some important climaxes or moments were missed depending on your seat. Juliet’s dramatic death by stabbing was significantly less dramatic when we couldn’t see the knife, or her face.

La Boite’s pared-back production of Romeo and Juliet is riveting, maintains the key qualities of the story that has captivated audience hearts for centuries, and showcases the considerable talent of Queensland’s next generation of theatre artists.

La Boite Theatre Company’s Romeo and Juliet is at the Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane until June 15


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