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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Romeo, Juliet and me

I suppose I didn't approach the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Drama theatre in the Sydney Opera House with the right reverent attitudes.

Of course, I am rather keen on C. J. Dennis' The Sentimental Bloke, written a century ago in Australian vernacular—and in particular, the part where they go to see said play.  Here's an excerpt, but the whole of this portion is here: strongly recommended!

'Wot's in a name?" she sez. 'Struth, I dunno.
A still from the Raymond Longford's 1919 Australian
silent movie of The Sentimental Bloke.
Billo is just as good as Romeo.
She may be Juli—er or Juli—et ——
'E loves 'er yet.
If she's the tart 'e wants, then she's 'is queen,
Names never count ... But ar, I like "Doreen!"

A sweeter, dearer sound I never 'eard;
Ther's music 'angs around that little word,
Doreen! ... But wot was this I starts to say
About the play?
I'm off me beat. But when a bloke's in love
'Is thorts turns 'er way, like a 'omin' dove.

This Romeo 'e's lurkin' wiv a crew ——
A dead tough crowd o' crooks —— called Montague.
'Is cliner's push —— wot's nicknamed Capulet ——
They 'as 'em set.
Fair narks they are, jist like them back—street clicks,
Ixcep' they fights wiv skewers 'stid o' bricks.

That aside, there were warnings in the foyer that there would be bangs, flashes, smoking and nudity.  Clearly, this was to be a modern production, and I am a bit of a traditionalist.

I grimaced slightly at this news, and declared that if Friar Laurence got his kit off, I was leaving.  No worries there, it was only R and J who disrobed—and they kept their knickers on, mainly because all the actors were miked (!!) and they needed somewhere to hide the battery pack and transmitter.  Sadly, the microphones did nothing for their diction, but that was OK because they were messing about with the script.

Anyhow, it being Grand Final season in Australia, when the non-round-ball football codes (we have a number of them, but Rugby League and Aussie Rules are the worst in terms of making the fans silly) send out their stupidest alpha males to maim each other, and all the bogans go mad.  So I asked Chris if we should barrack for the Montagues or the Capulets, and then things started to degenerate.

I think it was two of the men (Capulet and Paris, as I recall), playing a sort of gentle squash game with tennis racquets and a tennis ball against one wall of the revolving set while they chatted. The revolving set was at rest at the time, and it worked well—it was actually two concentric revolving floors.  Apparently it has had some teething troubles, but now all is well.

Then again, maybe the rot in my mind started earlier.  Even before the opening, a ladder somehow got involved with a part of the audience as it was carried down off the stage before being taken back into the wings, and I expressed the hope that they would enliven the proceedings by a short excerpt from 'Pyramus and Thisbe', re-scored for two choruses, with the ladder playing the part of Wall and offering a plethora of chinks for the chorus members to use.  That would have been good, I said, and after the play—but only then—she agreed.

Still, we had no such luck getting a look at P&T, but hope springs eternal, and just after Friar Laurence slipped in one of the sonnets (116: "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds ...") as the marriage lines, I began to hope for a proper pastiche.  (This is named after Jean-Luc Pastiche, the inventor of the Hashed Mashed Potato Treat.)

(I might add that Friar Laurence was seen on stage, puttering around in a garden of ferns, collecting flowers from them!  Some botanist and druggist he'd be!  Mind you, they were probably GM ferns, so I suppose anything's possible.)

Given the sonnet cross-over, I began to hope for a cage fight between Macbeth and Macduff (didn't happen), a cream pie fight between Titania and Oberon, formation nude bathing in a bird bath by knights in armour, a cameo role for Caliban and a kraken (all ditto).  It wasn't my fault: with dodgy diction, I had to fill in the gaps for myself.

I began to long for Sir Andrew Aguecheek on roller skates or the return of the ladder to retrieve helium balloons that had escaped in the party scene, with Bottom and Falstaff as the retrievers, dancing on the ladder to the rock music playing for the party.  Again, no luck, but all the party-goers wore white rabbit masks and that was a plus.

Mind you, it wasn't hard to spot Capulet, though, because he had a greasy pony-tail that looked silly at the back of a rabbit. They drank a lot but ate nothing, making it unlikely that we would hear Puck's immortal line:

"Lord, what foods  these morsels be!"

But at the end, Juliet was still alive, and she had a gun, and apparently knew how to use it.  I'm fairly sure that's not how it happened in the 1600s.  I hoped she would fire a shot into the fly loft, with two rubber chickens falling to the stage, but Paris had used three shots to try and kill Romeo, Romeo got the gun and used one to kill Paris, and she must have wanted to make every shot that remained count, so no rubber chickens.

Still, when a pantomime horse crossed the stage, followed by a hunchback crying "A Norse, a Norse, my Kingdom for a Norse", a flood of slaughter ran through the theatre when we realised he was doing a Danish accent and waving a skull.  We were a sophisticated audience.

Actually, that last bit might not have happened (but it should have), or if it did happen, it might have been a flood of laughter that ran: my notes are hard to read, and by then I was concentrating on the structure of the next book, and trying not to echo 'The Bloke' in the fight scenes:

"Put in the boot!" I sez. "Put in the boot!"
"'Ush!" sez Doreen ... "Shame!" sez some silly coot.
Well might we all say, "Put in the boot" to this performance.

Next time, I want a re-run of Charley's Aunt.  If it has nudity, I want the actors on skates, on ice, and juggling, so as to improve the chances of a satisfactory and fundamental shock to them, rather than to the audience.

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