Romeo and Juliet (2019/20)
Directed by Damien Ryan
Written by William Shakespeare
December 21, 2019 to February 23, 2020
Thou can’st not speak of that thou dost not feel...
It takes a village to kill a child.
The existential crisis facing our world today, the product of a lack of practical leadership from our earth’s elders, has triggered a deafening chorus of ‘How dare you!’, screamed from the heart of our planet’s youth. And it’s not just about climate issues. What can children teach us in their struggle to be heard?
Sport for Jove’s furiously energetic new production of Romeo & Juliet is characterised by a true vision of today’s youth - the rarely seen innovation of actual teenagers playing the play’s children – Juliet, Romeo, Paris, Mercutio, Benvolio, Balthazar, all aged 14-18, and surrounded by an extraordinary cast of experienced players, gives this production an authenticity and honest rawness, danger and the genuine awkwardness of youth.
Director Damien Ryan’s production takes on the spirit of a filthy Italian opera, lead with an original acapella vocal score by Naomi and Drew Livingston, driven by heat and sensuality, chaos, fights and fevers of the mind, and of course, by Shakespeare’s soaring poetry. We are carries us to backcountry Verona, a profoundly insular town, trapped in cycles of tradition and vendetta, staring out at the future with moral pollution at its heart. Only its children’s courage to express themselves will bring change. With the mad blood stirring, two young lovers meet and set in motion the most iconic love story of all time, that of Juliet and her Romeo.
Join us under the stars in our 11th Summer Season for this heart-stopping production of the star-crossed lovers.
It takes a village to kill a child. This play is about the entirely unnecessary deaths of children and the community of elders who stand in the glooming dawn of an ordinary Thursday morning to learn the appalling costs of their ignorance, moral pollution and gracelessness.
Shakespeare’s source, Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem Romeus & Juliet, is a warning to children to listen to the wisdom of their parents. In Shakespeare’s play that moral is glaringly reversed. As such it speaks directly to our current moment, a world facing an existential crisis brought on by our own pollution, both moral and literal. “How dare you! The eyes of all future generations are upon you”, teenager Greta Thunberg recently bellowed in passion to world leaders at the UN. And 15-year-old Australian activist Jean Hinchcliffe roasted PM Scott Morrison’s climate inaction by saying, “it is insulting to assume young people aren’t intelligent enough to organise themselves”. Meanwhile the world stood in awe of Malala Yousafzai who could not be prevented from achieving an education even by a Taliban bullet to the face. “We realise the importance of our voices only when we are silenced”, she said. Shakespeare captured these youthful ambitions in Act 2 when he said “passion lends them power”.
The children of Verona are resoundingly silenced by shocking fate in order for us to recognise a global stupidity – we create the atmosphere our children breathe. “Poison, I see, has been his timeless end”, says Juliet of her dead lover. Poison indeed killed Romeo, as it did Juliet, Mercutio, Tybalt and Paris – but it’s not the potion “subtly mixed” by the Friar or the “mortal drugs” of the apothecary, this is a village-borne poison, a moral poison, transmitted, even breastfed, from generation to generation by a community whose selfish and corrupt traditions leave children with nowhere to turn and no oxygen beyond the miasma of an “ancient grudge”.
The central tenet of this production therefore was to genuinely hear the voices of young people, to observe their wonderful natural awkwardness, their chaotic exuberances and desires, their filthy jokes which Shakespeare beautifully counterpoises with their gloriously self-conscious poetic inspirations. Our teenagers here are real teenagers, something rarely seen with this play. Mercutio is typically the oldest of his crew but here, at 14-years-old, he is the youngest, his immaturity powerfully evident in his boastful, obsessive and perhaps terrified anxiety about sexuality. In the harsh rules of this world, the youngest must be first to die. This play is about ‘pre-maturity’, it is an early tragedy written among a dozen comedies by Shakespeare, it is an ‘early’ play about ‘earliness’, about being young. Even its dramatic structure observes this, each day’s action commencing pre-dawn and getting uglier as the sun rises higher in the sky and the day ages.
Queen Mab has gifted these desperate children one mutual dream. It is to reach further, to climb higher, “to soar above a common bound”. Each child simply dreams of their right to be extraordinary. Juliet and Romeo manage it, too briefly transcending their claustrophobic time and place by building ever-expanding horizons in their shared imagination, reaching for “that vast shore washed with the farthest sea”, teaching “torches to burn bright” or asking heaven to “take him and cut him out in little stars” that redefine the whole world’s relationship with the cosmos. They expand their tiny local universe to the size of their love and commitment to each other. As Juliet puts it “my bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep, the more I give to thee, the more I have for both are infinite”. Tragedies before this play were never about love, but about politics, pride, monarchy, spiritualism. Shakespeare elevates love to the plane of these huge human concerns. His loving couple have a talismanic power, putting honesty, sexual and spiritual desire, and selflessness back on their pedestal among human values.
Our Verona is a backcountry Italian village where the community is the centre of all things, where life is public, where laundry is aired for all to see but where a profoundly private and insular disease still rules, a village with ‘locked-in syndrome’, self-obsessed and unable to achieve change even in the days following the conclusion of an existential global crisis of their own, WWII. As their men return from war where they have been fighting on the same side, all “alike in dignity”, the rituals and rites of violence in their small town remain insoluble, among women, children and servants. They gather that Sunday night to celebrate Juliet, a girl born on Lammas Eve, symbolically the precise beginning of the annual harvest, known in northern Italy as the ‘Feast of First Fruits’. Fruits will feature prominently in the linguistic motifs of this play, rotting in the Veronese heat, and Juliet is the centre of that metaphor, such abundance and such promise of ripening come to nothing. For four short days, caught in the world’s gaze, this flawed community stand as a chorus before us and reveal the panicked soul inside them, wildly screaming for help. The play is a journey of constriction and tightening of space, moving from outdoor open spaces - piazzas, streets, estates, orchards, fields and gardens - to bedrooms, cells and finally a tomb. Ours is a simple ensemble approach to storytelling, using song and voice, and celebrating the actors’ natural instruments and energy to create the sense of ‘community’ that Shakespeare works so hard to foster in his play. You are that community with us, and the eyes of all future generations are upon us all.
Photography by Seiya Taguchi
Adele Querol | Lady Montague
Bron Lim | Nurse
Christopher Stalley | Friar John/Capulet cousin Lucio/Body guard to Romeo, Abraham
Claudia Elbourne | Juliet
Damien Ryan | Montague
David Soncin | Tybalt / Cafe worker / Apothecary
Dinitha Senevirathne | Paris/Balthazar, younger brother to Benvolio
Felicity McKay | Capulet cousin Allegra
James Haxby | Prince Escalus / Capulet cousin Valentine
Jay James-Moody | Peter
Jeremi Campese | Benvolio
Lexi Sekuless | Lady Capulet
Mandela Mathia | Friar Lawrence
Max Ryan | Mercutio
Oliver Ryan | Romeo
Rebecca Montalti | Capulet cousin Petruchia
Septimus Caton | Capulet
Wendy Strehlow | Nonna Capulet, grandmother to Juliet
Bernadette Ryan | Costume Designer
Christopher Starnawski | Stage Manager & Sound Designer
Claudia Ware | Assistant Director
Damien Ryan | Director
Drew Livingston | Composer of vocal pieces
Loretta Foster | Technical Manager
Naomi Livingston | Composer of vocal pieces
Scott Witt | Fight Director
Sophia Bryant | Stage Manager & Associate Sound Designer
Sophie Parker | Lighting Designer