REVIEW: WAAPA’s Romeo and Juliet will leave you wishing you paid more attention in Year 9 English.


Photograph by Jon Green

Romeo (Jonathan Lagudi) and Juliet (Poppy Lynch) in the famous balcony scene.

Joshua Smith, Reporter

The story of our star-crossed lovers may end in bitter tragedy, but the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will have you laughing before leaving you in stunned silence.

From the simple but effective set design, to the costumes that give the whole production a Grease-esque feel, guest director Michael Jenn brings to life this classic play with all the focus and emotion of a professional production that will make you forget you’re watching third-year acting students.

The production finds a wonderful balance between history and modernity, with 1950s Italy serving as the location in Jenn’s adaptation. Jenn said when he directs Shakespeare he typically does not set the plays in any particular period, but for Romeo and Juliet he made an exception.

“It suits the period really well, especially because the designs are of such a high standard,” he said.

Set designer Kara Rousseau said the production was adapted to this era for its similarity to the historical context of the original text, and so that the play might be relatable to a modern audience while still having firm roots in the culture of late 16th century Italy.

She said: “This text is often Americanised in its contemporary adaptations, but we chose for it to remain standing with both feet planted firmly in Italian soil.”

Though performed with the original language, the production is easy to follow even for someone brand new to Shakespeare’s plays, or for those who haven’t read Shakespeare since Year 9. The actors guide the story with such understanding of the original language and themes that even if half the lines go over your head, you’ll still find yourself emotionally invested in the journey of our young, naïve lovers.

Jonathan Lagudi’s portrayal of Romeo began by perfectly capturing the brooding, moody teenager-in-love, which despite its relatability prepared us for a solemn and dry performance. However, the way the character of Romeo springs to life after meeting his love was as clear as the quarrel between Montague and Capulet. Lagudi developed his character with an ease and expertise that left the audience delightfully surprised.

Unfortunately, this left Poppy Lynch’s Juliet paling in comparison. It was not until the final act that Lynch seemed to truly connect with her character. Despite this, the chemistry between Romeo and Juliet was undeniable and the famous balcony scene was one of the most memorable of the show.

The most notable performances of the production belong to Lucinda Howes in her portrayal of Romeo’s cousin Benvolio, whose humorous banter with Romeo was delivered with exceptional timing, and showcased Shakespeare’s ability to break up tragic storytelling with jokes and quips; and Bryn Chapman Parish in his convincing role as Juliet’s controlling father Lord Capulet: anyone who can deliver the line “You are a saucy boy” and still make it menacing deserves high praise.

Both performances stood out among the rest, which is saying something considering the high calibre of acting across the board. It would be remiss not to give special mention to Peter Thurnwald’s lewd Mercutio, as well as the excellent back-and-forth between Juliet and her nurse (Kaya Jarrett).

Jenn, who’s bringing nearly 40 years of experience to this production, said even though the play is so well-known, people often don’t remember much about it past the balcony scene and the deaths. He said he wants to remind people of the comedy, the violence, and the shocking moments of the story.

“I hope people feel they’ve seen a fresh take on the play, and I hope they will feel like it’s a play that might have been written yesterday.”

While the performance was certainly conventional in nature, the sets, costumes, and energy of the piece are most definitely refreshing. Jenn achieves his goal of leaving you feeling like you are watching a new play rather than a rehashed version of an age-old tale.

If nothing else, the masquerade party scene is worth the price of the tickets alone.

Romeo and Juliet will be showing at the State Theatre Centre of WA in Studio Underground until Thursday 21 March. For showing times and bookings, click here.

Romeo and Juliet: 8/10