This review comes with a disclaimer: that is, any play over 3 hours in length and performed fully in Shakespearian language. Don’t get me wrong, the play was excellent, it just was an unexpected surprise and slightly jarring Friday night experience from third year WAAPA students at the Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre.
This year’s final year WAAPA students brilliantly transformed the Underground into 1950’s Italy to perform the Shakespearian classic, Romeo and Juliet. The infamous play, that follows the story of two star-crossed lovers caught between the long-standing family feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. With direction by the extremely talented British Artist Michael Jean, the performance did not fail to capture the drama, tragedy and romance that we know and love about Romeo and Juliet.
The costume and set design were easily one of the biggest successes of the performance. Each character’s costume was elegantly and meticulously curated, capturing the essence of the time and perfectly reflecting the character’s status and personal attributes. This was seen in the contrast between Juliet’s stiff white dress suggesting her innocence and purity, compared to Romeo’s relaxed denim and leather look alluding to his less refined upbringing.
The set was simple yet effective, as it enhanced the atmosphere for both the audience and the actors. The student set designer, Kara Rousseau used numerous levels in her design, which created defined and versatile spaces for the actors to occupy.
The performance was truly elevated by the actors’ commitment to character and ability to portray the raw emotion that prevails throughout Romeo and Juliet. The dramatic performance was filled with moments of high tension between Romeo (Jonathan Lagudi) and Juliet (Poppy Lynch). Without easy dialogue to rely on, the actors were forced to rely solely on their body and voice. This proved to be highly effective in creating emotion-filled moments, such as the death of Romeo’s friend, Mercutio (Peter Thurnwald) where Lagudi beautifully portrayed the anguish leading to anger in his character. These moments of extreme tension and intense drama were offset by playful servants and surprising moments of comedy. This allowed the actors to show off their abilities to seamlessly swap between light and dark, refreshingly inserting comedy into the tragedy we are all so familiar with.
The excellent acting and fitting direction were only the facilitators for what is a love story that has transcended time – in the spirit of authenticity (and perhaps safety) on the director’s part, there were no changes to the plot or dialogue of the play. Rivalling families, the all-encompassing anguish of youth, the joy and pain of a first love and the nature of grief have remained universal human experiences, and were displayed faithfully by the student actors. The Shakespearian story was easily translated into 1950s society, and its performance today resonates, suggesting that Shakespeare will perhaps always remain a relatable and relevant viewing experience.
Words by Megan Dodd