Mercutio’s Romeo and Juliet
With The Shakespeare Project, Anegada Theatre sets out to re-tell The Bard’s works from the viewpoint of the supporting characters in the stories.
Mercutio is often perceived as an eternal bachelor, devoted to a debauched lifestyle and mocking the earnest efforts of his friend Romeo to find true love. With Mercutio’s Romeo and Juliet, writer and director Tara Anegada suggests the character’s self-destructive behaviour is prompted by the realisation he is not only gay but deeply in love with his best friend who is oblivious to the situation.
Anegada’s story takes place around events in Shakespeare’s original. Mercutio (Barney Hartwill), still in the closet and tormented by his feelings for Romeo, encounters Juliet (Sofia Bassani), who is struggling to reconcile herself to being effectively married off by her father to Paris, described as a laddish bore. When Juliet later encounters Romeo, a love triangle develops, albeit with only one of the participants aware of its existence.
Barney Hartwill plays Mercutio as a full-on tragic character, doomed by his inability to express, or even recognise, his true feelings. Hartwill’s approach is a sharp contrast to the idea of Mercutio being a shallow hedonist. He brings out a surprising level of empathy, sympathising with Juliet’s predicament. Rather than being bawdy, Mercutio’s feelings for Romeo are expressed in a lush, romantic manner.
Sofia Bassani makes Juliet a conflicted character: wanting to dutifully obey her father but unable to conceal her growing misgivings. Bassani’s speech patterns become notably more relaxed and happier as she describes her feelings for Romeo; all hesitancy and doubt vanish.
This is a modern-day production with contemporary dress and references to travelling in lifts and to pop song lyrics. This approach does not always work with the story—one wonders if a present-day parent would behave as crassly as Juliet’s father or if a daughter would be so submissive. The use of quotes from the original text sometimes changes their meaning. When, in the original, Juliet muses "Wherefor art thou Romeo?" she is certain she has found her soulmate but distressed that his lineage makes him an enemy of her family. When Mercutio uses the line, he seems to be questioning why he had to fall in love with his best friend. Author and director Tara Anegada sets an atmospheric tone with a foreboding soundtrack. The stylised approach—with the cast using ritualised arm and hand movements—is, however, sometimes confusing.
The approach taken with The Shakespeare Project imposes limitations upon those involved. As secondary characters are moved to the forefront but endings left unchanged, the results cannot be too radical. The project feels, therefore, interesting but not too involving.
Reviewer: David Cunningham