The Romeo Syndrome
Entertainment Guide; Stage
09 December 1994
The evergreen story of Romeo and Juliet is being retold. STEVEN CARROLL reports.
LIKE the Whitlam Government and the Australian people, the romance between Romeo and Juliet was never going to last; both had one term written all over them. But even though the Romeo/Juliet affair occupied about 60 hours, their story has stood the test of time. The latest production, directed by Glenn Elston, is being staged in the Royal Botanic Gardens at the Old Melbourne Observatory an appropriate location for a pair of star-crossed lovers.
Nadine Garner, who was last in Amadeus and will soon return to England to film new episodes of Class Act, plays Juliet a part she had always wanted. “I love the character; she’s more than I ever thought she was,” says Garner.
But how does an actor prepare for one of the best-known parts in theatre? Like Hamlet, the audience will be whispering half the lines before Ms Capulet opens her mouth. “The first thing is to understand the technical aspects. From there, find the sense of it for yourself. If you take the text on, it becomes so personal. It’s all about hurt, pain and extreme emotions and you can’t be objective about that,” says Garner.
It’s also a play about the social constructions of romantic love.
When Romeo and Juliet first meet they talk in tortuous metaphors, very much in the style of the courtly love poets of the day. Their devotions are couched in terms of the planets and stars.
On the balcony, Juliet invites Romeo to pledge his love. Let’s hear yer style, she seems to be saying. And while Romeo is no poet, he gives it a go. When he pledges by the moon, she stops him short; wrong metaphor the moon is too inconstant.
They are quite clearly inexperienced lovers playing with inherited notions of what love is. “That’s a very post-modern reading of the play and you could argue that Romeo and Juliet single-handedly constructed the mythology of romantic love. You look at the amount of times that this myth has been regurgitated over and over again and you ask why? It is a construction and no more realistic than Cinderella or Snow White and yet people, in their hearts, still think that it’s a truth, God-given and maybe one day it will happen to them,” says Garner.
But while Garner concedes that this is one way of looking at the play her view is that this is not what’s happening on stage. “Today their exchanges would be an intellectual flirting process. They’re both gentry, well-schooled and they’ve got a lot of wit. And the language they use on the balconey scene is their connection to the earth and nature.
“People were a lot more connected and bound to those images than we are today. So to talk about the sun and the moon seems now poetic, but in those days it wasn’t.”
It is probably the only pragmatic aspect of a love that chooses to die at the highest point of its intensity. It is inconceivable to think of Romeo and Juliet 10 years down the track.
“Because they’re in love with being in love, they wouldn’t want to fall out of love so it’s probably just as well they die before they do. You can’t imagine them settling down to married life . . . They kind of die when they meet,” says Garner.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, directd by Glenn Elston.
Currently previewing at The Old Melbourne Observatory, Royal Botanic Gardens. Bookings: 651 1500 or BASS.