Brilliance on the balcony

Cheryl Tan shines in Singapore Repertory Theatre's Romeo And Juliet.
Cheryl Tan shines in Singapore Repertory Theatre's Romeo And Juliet.PHOTO: SINGAPORE REPERTORY THEATRE

The Juliet played by Cheryl Tan is hyper-sexual, calling Romeo in a throbbing growl

REVIEW / THEATRE

SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK - ROMEO AND JULIET

Singapore Repertory Theatre

Fort Canning Park/Last Saturday

Much like the confused teen characters at its heart, Romeo And Juliet cycles uneasily through multiple identities before settling into its own.

In the first half of the play, rock music and South-east Asian gongs clash in discord (sound design by Jeffrey Yue, composer Ruth Ling), hoodies and flowing Mandarin robes confuse the eye (costumes by Moe Kasim) and nothing is resolved until Cheryl Tan as Juliet takes to her balcony.

  • BOOK IT / SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK - ROMEO AND JULIET

  • WHERE: Fort Canning Park (enter by the Gothic Gate at Carpark A)

    WHEN: Till May 22; Wednesday to Sunday, 7.30pm. Park opens at 6.30pm

    ADMISSION: $40 to $108 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

She cuts through the cacophony with a different take on a character usually played as mild, meek and virginal. This Juliet embodies the hyper-sexual, hormone-crazed heart of the story. She discards childish shorts for a woman's dresses, stretches her body cat-like and calls Romeo's name in a throbbing growl.

When Romeo (Thomas Pang) races to her, accelerating out of equal frustration, one is almost relieved that the play ends in their deaths. Nothing of this intensity can be sustained too long.

Nor should it be, given this Juliet with her latent psychotic tendencies, cheerfully wishing Romeo were a bird tied to her hand so she could pull him back if he strayed.

With the future of Singapore Repertory Theatre's annual Shakespeare In The Park depending on this year's attendance, Romeo And Juliet may seem the safe, crowd- pleasing choice.

However, any presentation must contend with the audience's memories of the earthy Singlish in Wild Rice's 2012 staging, Jet Li as a lovelorn gangster in the 2000 film Romeo Must Die and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996) set in modern-day California. All these come to mind in the nearly three-hour production, aided by the show's own confusion about its identity.

Luckily, the Capulet ensemble soon defies comparison. Juliet's rages and tantrums are mirrored by her Capulet father, a minor character made fearful and powerful by Remesh Panicker. Juliet's caprices twist her nurse into supporting the ill-fated love affair and Jo Kukathas moves neatly between the comedy and tragedy required of her role, often in the same scene.

The Montagues are not as lucky, playing their roles by the book - no less, but no more. Pang is an adequate Romeo, given room to shine when with his gang of friends. Benjamin Chow plays the peacemaker Benvolio competently and Shane Mardjuki convinces as the volatile Mercutio, whose death hastens the tragic end of the play.

Mercutio's fatal fight falls flat like most other fight scenes. Director Daniel Slater has him later haunt the towering multi-level stage as a ghost and reappear as the apothecary who sells Romeo the instrument of his death. No hints at tragedy here, only screams.

Set design by Francis O'Connor similarly blazons the fatal divide between the household. A crack bifurcates the multiple sets of stairs, used to elevate actors to the gaze of viewers seated at the top of the park. Lighting by Gabriel Chan blinks between red and blue to signal the Capulet or Montague household.

Subtlety is discarded for most of the staging, the creators perhaps deciding more is better to reach an audience of 2,000 on a sloping lawn.

The last act in Juliet's tomb gives the lie to that idea. As the couple's confessor, Father Laurence (Daniel Jenkins) scourges himself in penance, hooded crew place tall fake candles at various vantage points on the stairs, turning the disco-rock set into an eerily beautiful cathedral.

It is the best choice of all the different identities Romeo And Juliet tries in its run. That this happens at the end is the real tragedy of the play.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Brilliance on the balcony'. Print Edition | Subscribe