Friday, June 09, 2006

Romeo and Juliet (Metro, SMH)

Benito Di Fonzo

June 9, 2006 Arts - Entertainment -

What it is about Romeo that stops Juliet ringing Neighbourhood Watch?Chloe Armstrong and Julian Garner get some face time in  Romeo and Juliet

Romeo is not the only Italian to stand under a girl's balcony reciting verse, but with lines such as "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" you know he's the most infamous. What it is about Romeo that stops her ringing Neighbourhood Watch?

"Obviously, if Juliet was not a virgin and had had a series of abusive relationships behind her I don't think she'd be as responsive to Romeo, [but] there's this beautiful vulnerability and ethereal quality that she sees in him, like he's from another planet," says 23-year-old Chloe Armstrong, who plays the "not yet 14" Juliet in Bell Shakespeare's latest production.
"It's to do with his imagination, sensitivity and impressionability, and as young as she is she sees that straightaway and falls for him."

Romeo is played by Julian Garner, best known as Alex Dimitriadis's gay lover in 1998's Head On. Even armed with poetry, the love between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet is doomed from the start due to their families' feud, a conflict for which director John Bell saw comparisons in recent events.

"He was thinking we don't really have this sort of fighting in our society," Armstrong says, "and then the Cronulla riots happened. That was the starting point for him. The set has quite a stark urban feel, and the divisions are very clear between the Capulets and Montagues in costume."

Armstrong, who also plays the witch Graymalkin in Romper Stomper director Geoffrey Wright's upcoming film version of Macbeth, saw echoes of her own adolescence in the love-struck Juliet.

"I had moments where something mattered to me so much that I lost all sense of rationale and was arguing along a course that was completely unfathomable, but I was so adamant in my heart that this was right that I couldn't see past it.

"To an outsider's eye it would have seemed that I was being a hysterical rebellious adolescent, but I was just desperate. It's the same for Juliet, she's a girl living with a family who are completely thwarting her whole objective, which is to be with Romeo."

Hence we witness Juliet's journey towards independence as the conflict between her forbidden romance and her family forces her to make some very adult, if ultimately ill-fated, decisions.

"It's quite unusual for a 'not yet 14'-year-old to be quite so free-thinking," she says. "She becomes her own agent. A big part of Juliet for me is her autonomy, which she discovers, and asserts. It's really cool that it was written so long ago by a man who gives this young girl this incredible initiative."

She is aided by Friar Lawrence (Philip Dodd), who secretly marries the couple before Romeo's enforced exile for the murder of Juliet's cousin. Later, after learning of Juliet's decision to commit suicide to avoid an arranged marriage, the Friar gives her a drug that will help her fake her own death. What would the Department of Community Services say?
"In retrospect you can go 'Oh Jesus, that was a bit rash, perhaps I should have called Lifeline'," Armstrong says. "He's impulsive, but he means well."
Ultimately, love brings an end to the ancient feud, if a little late for our lovers. Juliet might have been better off calling the cops when some boy from the wrong part of town turned up. Yet love, like poetry, is at it's best when blind.

Armstrong says: "To think that adults need two young people to kill themselves to see how stupid their feud is. As she says, 'my only love sprung from my only hate', which is imposed on her, like any sense of racism."

Only in fair Verona, or Cronulla.

(originally appeared in Sydney Morning Herald, Metro, 9/6/06)

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