Romeo and Juliet
By Upstart Theatre Company
PS Art Space
REVIEW: Lucy Ballantyne
Upstart Theatre Company is garnering quite the reputation. After enchanting audiences during Fringe World 2013 with their fully outdoors rendering of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the company returns this year with more Shakespearean treats. As is their trademark, the Upstarts deliver their performances in the style of immersive theatre: the audience stands for the duration, following the actors around the space to different scenes. By the conclusion my back ached and I was desperate for so much as a wall to lean on, but it was worth it.
Upon entering the gorgeous Pakenham Street Art Space, the audience is immediately delighted by the set-up. Tangled fairy lights hang in contrast against the polished concrete walls and give the room a warm glow. There are several individual sets scattered around the large space, each one furnished simply but beautifully. Acoustic covers of maybe four popular songs play on loop, including Oasis' Wonderwall, which is confusing, but makes the space seem even more airy and soft. It is dream-like.
Before the play begins, the performers walk around the space, though only really engaging with one another. When the dialogue does begin, the performances are exceptional. Garreth Bradshaw as the Prince makes a fine guide through fair Verona, while Amy Murray's Sampson and Jordan Gallagher's Tybalt are extraordinarily impressive for their presence and consistency.
As for the star-crossed lovers themselves, the nymph-like Madelaine Page's Juliet was particularly notable. The youthful vivacity she brought to the role was nothing short of spectacular. Seeming at times like she might actually jump out of her skin, she convinces us entirely that she is a teenage girl in the first flush of new love.
It is the moments the audience engages with Page and Daley King's Romeo that stand out as the most memorable of the performance. When we are encouraged to lend a hand to binding Romeo and Juliet's hands together for their wedding, the performance becomes genuinely touching. Similarly, during the infamous scene in Juliet's bedroom, the spectators are asked to create what must be the most picturesque of blanket forts to surround and enclose the couple. In these moments, the potential of this style of immersive theatre is realised.
At the play's conclusion, I felt like Upstart had delivered on their fine reputation. Unfortunately, things did not end there. After the final lines, the ensemble stood in a line and sang Hunters and Collectors' Throw Your Arms Around Me, accompanied by acoustic guitar. Even a couple of the cast members looked iffy. They might have found a more tragic end than Shakespeare's original one.