Bard on the Beach

Romeo & Juliet

Dates 16 June - 22 September 2007 @ 20.00 Tuesday-Saturday; @ 20.00
Venue Main Stage Tent, Vanier Park

Director Dean Paul Gibson Costumes Mara Gottler Lighting Gerald King Sound and
Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe Stage Designer Kevin McAllister

Reviewer J H Stape

Bard on the Beach has a predictable and highly successful formula, delivering evenings of yuks, gimmicks, and ham thick cut year in and year out. When the company tackles the serious ends of the Shakespeare canon, it needs to handle gingerly the audience it has so carefully nurtured to keep those seats filled, and the current briskly paced production of Romeo and Juliet has you rolling in the aisles until Mercutio's death scene.

That's also the moment when the brightest star of the evening falls from the sky, for Bob Frazer dazzles and dominates this Shakespeare Lite run-through, offering an accomplished performance that is by turns witty, outrageous, and shot through with theatrical intelligence. In a word, he relies on acting rather than gimmickry to communicate his character.

We feel poorer when this Mercutio -- irreverent, vital, spirited -- takes leave of this world. Frazer's is also an astonishing vigorous physical performance that covers the stage -- in leather jacket, bubble butt-tight jeans, and six-pack hugging T-shirt, he is Shakespeare's Rebel without a Cause.

The other "creation" of the evening is Lois Anderson's Nurse, not always tasteful and sometimes pure roll-in-the-mud vulgarity, but she delivers, alternately the slattern-next-door whose hair is always a tumble and the girl from Yuk-Yuks. Her sense of comic pacing is unerring, and with her knock-you-down handsome servant boy Peter, played with aplomb by Charles Christien Gallant, she, like Frazer, blazes and burns.

The principles fare considerably less well. Kyle Rideout's Romeo is mainly a confection of smiling, whining, or shouting cluelessness, whereas his lady Juliet, the almost distressingly youthful Taylor Trowbridge is a rather too-cunning suburban prom queen with serious hair-do problems.

Where these "star-crossed lovers" fail most abysmally is in having no sense of language, delivering their lines in a virtually unchanging lilt that is imitation Shakespeare remote from the real thing. Neither of them inhabit their roles, and never do they move or uplift or sadden. There's entertainment here a-plenty, but all begins and ends there.

The rest of the large cast are variously committed: Michael Scholar, Jr's Tybalt is brooding grievance and fury incarnate, and Ian Butcher's Prince of Verona strives for authority in a collapsing world.

But quite what and where that world is isn't very clear, for this production takes place in a kind of historical no-man's land with the vaguely Renaissance set, sewn o'er with swords, in conflict with the black-and-white "mod" costumes that sometimes make this look like handy-me-down Kabul and at other times as if Verona were a hospital ward populated by male nurses.

Even more ghastly is the musical accompaniment, which ranges from the irrelevant to the positively irritating, as a character suddenly bursts into song, or a ping-boing! goes off at what seems a moment of solemnity. The sound designers ought to be banishéd, and I kept wishing that the plague or pox would put an end to their embarrassing muzak-schlock.

A good time is certainly had by some in this mixed bag of a production, unburdened by a directorial heavy hand but at times needing a steadier one. It's worth seeing if only for the performances of the astonishing Bob Frazer and no less accomplished Lois Anderson, both of whom do "teach the torches to burn bright."

© 2007 J H Stape

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