Romeo & Juliet (2012), Review

7 minutes read
Romeo & Juliet
15 April 2012, 8:00pm
3.5 out of 5


The Oldest, Yet the Latest Thing

Both leads more than held their own as the young impulsive lovers.

Michelle's heart didn't love till now.

Putting any kind of spin on a Shakespeare classic is not without risk, especially with a play as well known as Romeo & Juliet. Fortunately, W!LD RICE does not disappoint, and in fact quite successfully pulls off this rendition of what is arguably the world's most well-known tragic love tale.

What captured my attention immediately was the sparseness of the set, an inclined concrete floor that proved to work very well both practically and aesthetically. Designer CK Chia definitely achieved his aim of "creating a space that allows for responsiveness, and the change and movement of the play" – the fight scenes, for instance, stood out in this respect, where the action almost seemed to thrust itself into the audience. This no-frills continued through the production's design aesthetic (with the notable exception of M. Capulet's ruff collar) meaning that everything hinged upon the physical bodies on stage, which is an apt throwback to the actual performance conditions Shakespeare wrote for.

Brought right into the heart of the action, the audience inevitably found itself immersed and invested in the characters' personal journeys as well. Both leads more than held their own as the young impulsive lovers who allow heart to rule over head, and the actors' youth proved a refreshing change from watching more seasoned or mature actors play these teenage roles. Juliet's emotional journey was probably the most tumultuous, but was handled with sensitivity and skill by Julie Wee as she dished out petulance, naive idealism, and heartbreak in just the right amounts. This version of Verona also boasted an impressive supporting cast, and special mention must be made of Neo Swee Lin, Wendy Kweh, and Erwin Shah Ismail, who played the Nurse, Lady Capulet, and Mercutio respectively. Neo, in particular, never failed to bring on the laughs when she made an appearance - yet under this easy humour, her portrayal of the Nurse spoke of an emotional depth integral to her role as one of the young couple's strongest advocates.

This is a production in which function takes precedence over form, yet not at the expense of the latter. For instance, Juliet's bed doubles up as the balcony from where she stands listening to Romeo's professions of love, and then later also serves as, quite literally, their deathbed. Scene changes as such were unelaborate and fuss-free, so it was bizarre that the multimedia attempted to step in as if to fill some void – none of it was necessary. Using the images of moons to denote the passage of time felt rather contrived, and definitely did not add anything to the piece or the mood of those particular scenes. The projections of the Phantom-esque masks during the masquerade party and later, the huge visual of Juliet in front of a wind machine were equally (if not more) baffling and over the top.

Ultimately, perhaps accessibility is this production's biggest achievement – while many throw about the notion of "Shakespeare for all", few manage to make this actually happen. This Verona was effectively portrayed as somewhere "other", yet it didn't seem out of place when actors simply spoke the way in which they were comfortable, with no need for put-on accents. In fact this worked especially well for Lim Yu-Beng as the cocky and provocative Sampson, whose scene in which he "bites (his) thumb" at the Montague men is one of the more hilarious highlights despite it being oft-overlooked in the play. In fact, I laughed a lot more than I thought I would throughout the first act, and almost could have forgotten that this story was headed towards tragic doom.

This Romeo & Juliet is proof that language in the hands of a master wordsmith is indeed evergreen and transcends time and place – something we usually try to teach about Shakespeare but not always convincingly. Having been updated with none of the now shopworn directorial innovations that frequently adhere to Shakespeare (modernizing it by introducing technology or setting it in a clearly-established location), this production has thus kept itself original and surprising, which is no mean feat for an age-old classic.

First Impressions

There is no opulence or elaborate setting in this version of Shakespeare's classic, and fair Verona is all the better for it. Stripped to its bare essentials – bodies on a stage responsible for language and emotion – the play was an enjoyable and credible journey, retelling the familiar story of young, impulsive love with honesty and heart.

Special mention must also be made of the strong supporting cast, some of whom were sheer delights to watch, and who brought some much-needed humour and levity to this otherwise tragic cautionary tale.

Thanks to his apt pacing and impressive choreography, director Ivan Heng has been largely successful in his aim to "update Romeo and Juliet so that audiences would be able to see the play with today's eyes and to listen with today's ears". While certain (unnecessary) multimedia moments sometimes detract from onstage action, the created world is real enough for us to be emotionally invested in its characters, and to be rooting for (some of) them from the start, despite knowing their doomed endings.

Michelle Tan, 15 Apr 2012 (3.5 out of 5)

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