Hello all of you guys ... sorry for the lack of any posts over the last few weeks. I have been overseas for work and I have not been to anything except for Sarah Chang a few weeks ago (not gonna do a review on that .. it is Sarah Chang ... ‘nuff said!!). So I was really looking forward to Ivan Heng’s Romeo & Juliet !!!
I have been reading the reviews by many people about Wild Rice’s version of R & J and they have been sparkling. The hype and my anticipation was built sky-high before I even walked into the Drama Centre last Saturday evening. As mentioned in my previous R & J post, I have seen many different versions of Shakespeare’s most famous play. I have also read the unabridged and abridged versions many times in preparation for my ‘O’-levels literature exam years ago (btw, I scored and A1 for it .. woo hoo). The bonus was that I went with my better half who has a Major in English & English Literature but has never read R & J. She knows the story .. or so she claims .. must be via the Baz Luhrmann movie version. I personally think that was a good movie except that diCaprio was in it.
As we took our seats (right in front .. AA row was removed .. so A row was the first row .. right in the middle), I noticed that the set was surprisingly bare. In fact it was totally empty other than a very large stage floor. There were almost no markings on the floor. This was rare in this age of “large and pretty” sets. The place filled up pretty quickly and you could feel the buzz in the air as others in the audience waited impatiently for the play to start.
The opening scene was extremely stylized as the entire cast came out and stood stoically as Benvolio (Rishi Budhrani) delivering the opening prologue. This set the mood for the entire play. As per my usual reviews, I shall not go into too much details about the play so as not to spoil it for anyone else. All I can say is that it is one of the best plays I have ever seen in my entire life. Why?? Read on ... read on ..
Firstly as the set was bare, it all came down to pure acting. The acting was overall very good. To me, Erwin Shah (Mercutio) was the star of the night. I last saw Erwin in Spring Awakening where he was good but still rather hesitant (see my review of Spring Awakening). In R & J .. he shone. I feel that there are still some minor rough edges as the enthusiasm in his acting seemed to come across as ‘overacting.’ Give him a little more time and I can see him becoming one of the best of his generation here in Singapore.
Another of the cast who was excellent was Julie Wee who played Juliet. One could feel her emotions as she went from a innocent, young daddy’s girl ... to a young lover ... willing to forsake it all for her true love. Ivan did a good job casting her as Juliet.
Remeo was played by Hansel Tan. He did a good job but somehow I felt something missing. He delivered his lines perfectly but his facial expressions came across as forced rather than something truly felt. He seemed to have only two expressions – happy and sad with nothing in between. In the first act, when he was all lovesick and pining for Rosalyn .. he seemed fairly neutral and well “ho hum.”
Reading through the names for the supporting cast, it is expected that they would be great. Kay Siu has yet again shown why he is one of the best in what he does in his portrayal of Lord Capulet. When the tears rolled down his cheeks, I couldn’t help but feel misty-eyed. Swee Lin played the role of the Nurse well with her funny quips and sexual innuendoes. She would easily be many of the audience’s favourite character for the night. I have rarely seen Yu-Beng act other than on TV many years ago. I personally think that theatre fits him better. However, I think Friar Lawrence could be a bit more cheeky and less serious.
I was a little disappointed at how Tybalt turned out. The devil’s horns were a good touch but I felt that he was a little too one-dimensional. Not much was shown in terms of his close relationship with the Capulets. We all had to assume that he was very close to them especially to Juliet. He came across just as someone from the Capulet family who just wanted to kill anyone who was a Montague.
Also, the close relationship between Benvolio, Romeo and Mercutio seemed to be lacking. We know that they are extremely close friends but it came across that there was something missing in the scenes where the three of them were together. Though the “death of M” scene was excellent. “A plague on both your houses” required more blood to be spit out !!! (LoL)
As mentioned earlier in this post, there was very minimal set except for a bed, some tiki torches and backdrop images. That was enough!! Minimal distractions and maximum impact / concentration on the acting. The lighting work was fine with great shadow play of the cast against the backdrop and the floor at various scenes. The music was loud and furious during the fight scenes adding to the atmosphere but yet again kept to bare essentials. Good job backstage guys !! The modern style of costumes also made it all seem more current.
As you can tell, I really liked Ivan’s version of R & J. I felt it just came together nicely without being overly stuffy and pretentious. The acting and choreography was spot-on. The lines were delivered perfectly in terms of intonation and speed. I have some friends who found the ‘ole english’ difficult to understand and another friend actually fell asleep within 5 minutes of the play. They told me Shakespeare is not for everyone. I beg to differ. We all studied English in school. If we bother to pay attention and concentrate to the acting, even without understanding all the words, we can understand the meaning. In my opinion, R & J is the easiest of all his plays to understand as it is fairly light as compared to Hamlet and Macbeth. It is also one of the shortest and the language used is very much similar to modern English except for the poem-style of writing.
Again, heartiest congratulations to the creative team at Wild Rice .. especially to Ivan Heng for this excellent take on R & J. Here’s hoping that it will not be too long a wait before he decides to tackle another classic ... say ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ or ‘As you Like It’ perhaps?
(ed : sorry this was done in Script font as I felt it would be more fitting)