‘Romeo & Juliet’ was spirited.
Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s (QSE) ‘Romeo & Juliet’ proved to be an exciting return to the Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre.
Presented on the amphitheatre stage and performed in the round, audience and cast were literally together for a Shakespeare classic; notably the first full production of the play by QSE.
‘Romeo & Juliet’ is the timeless tale of the devastating effects of a family feud, the power of love, and just how far young souls will go to escape the toxicity of their bloodlines.
Lighting and sound throughout the production was complimentary to both the parklands and the show. Royal blues and romantic pinks covered the stage during Romeo and Juliet’s scenes, and similar hues were used to amplify costuming and makeup on actors, creating an aesthetically pleasing connection between lighting and fashion. Costume Designer Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn’s choices for the Montagues and Capulets were more than suitable. The Montagues roamed the stage in punk, with “Bite My Thumb” brandished on the back of Romeo’s biker jacket, an enjoyable detail. Mercutio’s costume was awesome and included fishnet tights, large love-heart shaped earrings, and pink spray paint spritzed onto the leather. On the other side of the social divide, Capulets were dressed in more boujee attire.
In comparison to lighting and costume design, the set was very minimal in decoration and colour. Consisting of a stationary archway that cleverly folded in and out to change the scene, it served the space very well. Set changes were fast and assisted by both ensemble members and crew, however, some scene changes ended up appearing a little clunky. This did not detract from the performance, but with such a small set and space, it was noticeable.
Serenading the performance was the QSE band that was, as always, a delight. Playing a kind of folk-rock, with hymn-like vocals, the musicians provided the perfect soundtrack. My only wish is that there was more of it during the show! It must be said that the band was not just the band. It was impressive to catch musicians seamlessly leaving their instruments to transform into actors, and back again – multi-talented ensembles are a treat to observe.
Worth a mention is the freezing cold breeze that decided to grace the park during the performance. At times, this proved a hindrance as voices were lifted away and hard to hear. However, the gale was soon forgotten, because locking eyes with Mercutio was far more stirring. The cast did occasionally break the fourth wall, and this proved fun and immersive, a little lightness before the tragedy.
Director Rob Pensalfini’s depth of experience is clear in this performance. Casting was non-traditional, a choice QSE has often made in their shows. Multiple male roles were played by women – an element that truly benefited the show. Shakespeare can be a daunting watch for anyone unfamiliar with it, but Pensalfini’s true understanding of the text made it all the more easy to understand, enjoy, and connect with the story.
Leading and supporting performers Liliana Macarone (Romeo), Sarah Doyle (Juliet), Rebecca Murphy (Nurse), John Siggers (Tybalt), Angus Thorburn (Benvolio) and Rob Pensalfini (Friar Lawrence) all proved strong and compelling in their roles. A standout performance was provided by new Core Ensemble-member Rebekah Schmidt, who added an energy to Mercutio that I have not seen before. Notably, Schmidt played two additional minor roles with equal vigour and commitment. The remaining ensemble were highly spirited, engaging, and fully immersed in their work.
Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble aims to make Shakespeare accessible for all, and in their 20th year, they are still doing exactly that. This performance of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is enjoyable for anyone, Shakespeare buff or not.
‘Romeo & Juliet’ performs until Sunday, 12 September at The Amphitheatre, Roma Street Parklands. For more information visit Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s website.