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“Romeo & Juliet” by W!ld Rice

April 16, 2012

(photo credit: Albert Lim KS ©)

Event: “Romeo & Juliet” by W!ld Rice
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 12th – 28th Apr 2012

Such Sweet Sorrow

Witnessing a production of “Romeo & Juliet” is not unlike sitting through a rendition of, say, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, or Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

In other words, it’s an epic work, you’ve probably come across it many times, and you probably know many of the segments by heart.

The strength of the material is never in doubt, since it has withstood the test of time despite being thoroughly deconstructed throughout the ages.

Hence, what we’re mainly looking at here is the treatment – What tempo does the conductor take? What colourings does the orchestra give the piece? What are the points of focus?

W!ld Rice’s first in a series of classic play stagings under the banner of “W!ld World Classics” sees Ivan Heng directing his first ever Shakespeare production.

Every start of the year, W!ld Rice intends to bring the world’s most celebrated plays to Singapore audiences, and what better way to start than by choosing the ever-popular “Romeo & Juliet”, quite possibly the greatest love story ever told.

(And also an O-Level literature text, I might add.)

And if the choice of material wasn’t appetising enough, the “who’s who of local theatre” cast list certainly makes it a must-watch – Hansel Tan, Julie Wee, Lim Kay Siu, Neo Swee Lin, Lim Yu-Beng, Brendon Fernandez, Gerald Chew, Nora Samosir, Wendy Kweh, Erwin Shah Ismail, Dwayne Tan, etc.

The first thing that strikes you about the production is that there are no sets.

All that presents itself to you is a bare inclined platform on which all “two hours’ traffic” takes place.

(Apart from the bed, of course, which also cleverly doubles up as the balcony as well as the tomb.)

And it is this stripped bare, setless environment which allows us to focus purely on the lines which come forth from the actors’ mouths, which honestly, take a lot of brain power for someone like me to fully comprehend, considering they were written in an archaic language of more than four centuries ago.

Leads Hansel Tan and Julie Wee did marvellously, showcasing a range and depth of emotions which I felt brought full justice to Shakespeare’s glorious tragedy.

The popular choice for outstanding performance would probably go to Neo Swee Lin for playing the Nurse, as she was able to portray her character in a highly-accessible manner, and through her Singlish-accented delivery was able to bring a startling level of relevancy to the lines.

At times you were tempted to think that Shakespeare wrote those lines specifically for Singapore theatre.

Fight choreographer Lim Yu-Beng did a wonderful job with the fight scenes, which seemed all so realistic and gruesome, with fake blood and all.

Special mention should also go to Erwin Shah Ismail and Wendy Kweh for delivering what I felt were superb performances as well.

In the same way we look out for certain well-known segments in our favourite classical pieces, in “Romeo & Juliet” there are generally two scenes which everyone looks out for – the balcony scene and the final crypt scene.

I thought Ivan Heng directed these two particularly salient scenes magnificently, and I found myself being helplessly moved by the enchantment of young love in the balcony scene, and the hopeless tragedy of star-crossed lovers in the final crypt scene.

“Romeo & Juliet” by W!ld Rice is a powerful, moving, and explosive affair (and not just because of the digitally-generated fireworks).

But for all its pizzazz, I personally felt that its biggest triumph was in successfully bringing the story of Romeo and Juliet to life – from on the staid page into an extremely realistic and locally-accessible three-dimensional portrayal.

As Ivan Heng astutely mentions, Shakespeare didn’t write literature, he wrote plays.

And if you’ve never seen a staging of “Romeo & Juliet” before, this would not be at all a bad place to start.

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