Romeo and Juliet (The Lost Generation)
The Pacific Playhouse
When Friar Lawrence plucks a poppy from foliage decorating Juliet's balcony in Director Alison Goldsmith's Romeo and Juliet: The Lost Generation, thoughts of Paschendale tint a re-reading that, whilst faithful to the text, transposes action from Shakespeare's heated Verona to the icy chill of Britain after the Great War: an arguably tenuous link between form and content, albeit intentional.
The auditorium's shiny wooden floorboards and 'school hall' sparseness nicely imagine a stripped-down emptiness following societal upheaval (if not the 'industrial town' suggested) with 'scratchy' gramophone tones from a post-war crooner adding atmospheric authenticity. Benvolio's 'here all eyes gaze upon us' is rendered literal: with no delineation between stage and seats, a closeness exists between players and audience only possible in a small venue such as this.
As with any retelling of a classic, some aspects work better than others, and there are Shakespearean plays more obviously suited to the idea of soldiers returning to a world of 'peace', women and troubled minds - Much Ado About Nothing, although a comedy, springs to mind.
The omission of the Chorus places us in medias res amongst actors dressed in plain and ex-military clothing as the play tries to steer from overt ideas of 'civil bloods' and familial hatred to fit the concept of wider wars, although the main tenor remains that of generational feud.
As Mercutio, Romeo and Benvolio plot to gatecrash Capulet's party, this retelling really works - three boys, released (physically, at least) from the horrors of war, out to forget and on the pull; and the theme illuminates Romeo's nano-switch of affection from Rosaline to Juliet that, to a cynical, modern audience, can seem somewhat rash.
The production excels, also, in highlighting an extensive use of martial language that is not immediately apparent in traditional readings; particularly effective here is war-embittered Mercutio (Brendan Jones), relating Queen Mab's powers to transform dreams in general, and those of soldiers 'cutting foreign throats' in particular.
Though not billed as a showcase, many of the cast are recent Poor School graduates and are generally excellent, although diction is unclear on occasion. Aimee Parkes (Juliet) is strong as a woman who will stand by her man, despite his apparent actions, as many had to do; her partnership with Ben Fisher (Romeo) is believably passionate.
Matt Prendergast is a nobly troubled Lawrence; Sherry Newton, who co-produces, characterises beyond her years as a chirpy Nurse; and Emma Boswell's Lady Capulet is coolly understated in trying to fathom the psyche of a daughter not much older than herself.
Two contributors deserve particular note: Christopher Hughes (Benvolio), a fine actor who has the ability to 'wear' Elizabethan language like a comfortable coat; and Toby Spearpoint (Fight Director) whose choreography produces sparring that looks frighteningly real.
Poppies are symbolic of war, their power to seduce and poison a reminder of the potential for beauty and evil that resides in all of us; a staging nearer to November's Armistice may have reinforced this idea of never-ending generations lost to war.
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler