On 18 May 2016, the Year 3 cohort attended Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare in the Park by the Singapore Repretory Theatre. Diverse and insightful, Emma Yong, Beatrix Teng and Tan Qiao Lin provide their reviews.
My first time watching a Shakespearean production definitely gave me a lot to think about.
Arriving at Fort Canning Park, there was already a snaking queue predominantly made up of students from various institutions waiting out the drizzle. It was worth the wait. Walking through the white gothic gates, I was greeted by the dynamic stage layout — layers of staircases and platforms where the actors were to stand on gave the stage a sense of depth, intrigue and mystifying quality, almost reminiscent of the locations in the levels of the award winning mobile game Monument Valley.
Vulnerable to rain, the truly unique outdoor experience comes with its challenges part and parcel of the production. Sitting outdoors, amidst nature and rowdy friends while snacking on endless heaps of food, made the entire “open” atmosphere more casual and relaxing, reaffirming that theatre performances are for everyone. The sultry wet weather, as somewhat cooling as it was, made sitting on the mush ground a little uncomfortable. However, this was quickly compensated by the befitting superb and grandeur of the performance that was to follow.
The stage lighting featured prominent colours of red and blue to effectively differentiate between the Montague and Capulet families. It changed with the different scenes of the play, softly lighting the stage during the intimate courting scenes of Romeo and Juliet, and flashing intensely during the fighting scenes, which I felt was well done to complement the emotions of the characters in the play. The acoustics were exceptional too, considering that the play was held in the park and not a theatre, allowing the audience to experience the sound effects that helped bring out the performance.
Acting wise, many people I’ve asked found it overly exaggerated, however, I felt that it nicely portrayed the personality and age of each character. The uninitiated might not be able to capture the subtleties if the expressive acting was toned down. Therefore the acting might enable them to better understand some of the main themes of the play such as love, loyalty, fate etc. For instance, Juliet’s melodious high pitched voice captured her youthful innocence and naivety, while Romeo’s delivered lines reinforced his passionate, starry eyed love toward Juliet too.
Another aspect of the play that I really appreciated were the directional twists. I must say that there are many arrangements that I never expected to happen. In attempts to modernise the timeless story (which sounds like a contradiction in terms), the Prince of Verona suddenly appeared in a roaring motorcycle, which surprised many.
I feel that I was able to enjoy the film since I read the play prior to watching the production. I could also understand the many intriguing phrases of figurative language. However, after speaking to several of my peers, I found out that quite a handful of people could not appreciate the production as much as I did, especially so when the actors spoke somewhat quickly in Shakespearean English. Though we studied Macbeth, the themes of both plays differ quite greatly, despite knowing Romeo and Juliet as a romantic tragedy, I must admit it was hard to fully understand what was going on, and I had to use the information that I read prior to fill in the gaps of what I could not catch.
Overall, I felt that the play, while true to the original script, was tastefully modernised by the lighting, special effects, stage and costumes. A lovely spectacle; the small modern twist definitely helped to relate more to the audience. Since this timeless classic was written along ago, such complementary visuals and good acting definitely helped convey the overarching themes of unrequited love to audience members far and wide in a night under the stars of Fort Canning. A night for one to remember.
This is what you might have experiences on the dark and rainy night of 18 May 2016 at Fort Canning Park. You see the huge grassy area upon the hill in front of you packed to the brim with people. While a giant stage occupies the bottom of the hill, an audience of more than a thousand fills the rest of the visible green space with their picnic mats and bags of food. Unable to squeeze through the large masses of bodies and belongings wet by the rain, let alone walk along the slippery, moderately steep hill, you find an area to sit on the outskirts of the makeshift theatre hall, all the way at the top and the back waiting for Singapore Repertory Theatre’s production of Romeo & Juliet is about to begin.
The stage at Fort Canning had two walls, with one open side directed at the audience on the grass and the other open side directed at some chairs that were under some shelter. Despite having to perform in front of a large and spread out audience, I think the director did a very good job in ensuring that no matter where the audience was seated, all elements in the play could be seen. The unique stage and setting gave the entire play a more open and three-dimensional appearance, making it feel more engaging. However, with the elaborate set that had many staircases and platforms, some scenes were hard to even notice.
One example would be a scene in the beginning in which the main scene was being acted in the foreground, with another developing scene happening in a dim corner at the top of the set. Even sitting right at the back, with the entire stage directly in my field of vision, I would have failed to notice the couple being particularly affectionate on a high platform in the back without a prompt from my friend to have me look there. With more than one dim corner or platform in the entire set, I do wonder what other subtle scenes I may have missed.
Although dim lighting on the set was a let down in highlighting important aspects of a scene at times, it did play a big role in distinguishing the two families – the Capulets and the Montagues. Especially noticeable in the very beginning was the stage that was divided in half to differentiate between the families: blue lighting on one side and red lighting on the other. Bright white light was also used to illuminate the giant crosses against the two walls of the set when the priest was out.
Other than the giant crosses, another symbolic element in the setting was the massive fissure in the middle of the stage that ran all the way up to the side of the walls. This was to show the separation between the two families. The crack was very artistically detailed, and it conveyed its symbolism perfectly, showing us how the barrier between the two families was more than just simple discomfort or emotional dislike. In fact, it demonstrated the hatred between the two families, a hatred that was almost visceral. The crack, however, interfered with the motion of the actors because they constantly had to jump over it and in one scene, hop across it while on a scooter.
I felt that the acting was over the top. Shakespearean plays are like a series of mountains and valleys – there needs to be some climaxes, as well as paths leading up to and down the peaks. In this particular performance, there was only a cliff. There was a steep and fast progression from when it started to a climax that never seemed to end. There was no balance between the calmer parts and the more exciting parts of the play. The actors were too enthusiastic and tried to make the whole play in every scene, as exciting as possible. Actions, gestures, tones of voice and displays of emotion were heavily exaggerated. Because of this, the whole play became quite boring quite fast because there was no contrast between what was supposed to be mellower and what was to be more intense. In fact, I feel that the talent of the actors was not used to its full potential to convey the beauty of this classic piece of work. The whole play seemed to be in a frenzied state.
At the end, I was rather dissatisfied with Singapore Repertory Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. The soundtracks were modern and did not suit the classic story and traditional language of the play. The incongruity was not limited to the music though. I think the costumes also surprised some audience members. In the party scene, guests wore traditional Asian costumes, a very odd choice for a Shakespearean work. In addition, Juliet wore short shorts and clothing that made her look no older than eleven. These production choices did not work. They were distractions that took away from the play.
On the positive side, some of the dramatic maneuvers in this particular production were well done. For example, when young Romeo, without noticeable hesitation or preparation, jumped up and clung onto a grey, brick wall in order to kiss Juliet, I, as well as the audience, gasped with surprise. Not only did it have us on our toes, but it also evoked several euphoric emotions because it was an unquestionably romantic gesture. Another impressive stunt was when one of the actors jumped off a high wall at the back of the stage. There were gasps again from the audience as we were left wondering what happened to the character.
Having just studied Macbeth, the Year 3s watching Romeo & Juliet could better appreciate the play. In having experienced both works, I believe students have gotten a feel of the nature of a typical Shakespearean work. For instance, the crests and troughs of Shakespeare’s plot development is evident in both Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare’s work also possesses complex and beautiful language and word choices. Studying Macbeth has helped us to understand and appreciate the works of Shakespeare in both text and performance. Although it is hard for Shakespeare beginners to take in the full splendor of the language in Romeo and Juliet, I’m sure students can appreciate the intricacies of the script and the effort taken to interpret and deliver the meaning of the text. For me, I must say I admire Shakespearean works – such as Romeo and Juliet – a great deal more now, than before I studied Macbeth.
Tan Qiao Lin
The Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet takes a modernised view of the Shakespearean classic. Set in modern day Singapore, the two warring families, the Montagues and Capulets, are portrayed as rival gangs. Performed against a set of glass and metal, the stage is split in two, showing the divide between the two houses. While the hot and wet weather was unfortunate, it certainly did not dampen the actors’ performance attempts.
With a strong and intense presentation of Romeo’s lines, actor Thomas Pang portrays Romeo as a valiant and passionate young man. Too passionate, perhaps. His overly zealous performance, while fitting at times, are at other times much too dramatic for some scenes, such as the scene where Romeo awaits his fate in Father Lawrence’s cell.
Juliet, played by Cheryl Tan, is presented as an infatuated young girl, bordering on immaturity. Seemingly fitting, since Juliet is supposed to a teenager, she sometimes comes across as whiny and annoying. Although Juliet’s costume changes show her increasing maturity, her childishness still permeates.
Venue-wise, the wet and humid weather made the performance quite uncomfortable. The downward slope of the hill at Fort Canning also caused myself and others to continuously slip forward, so we had to readjust ourselves repeatedly.
The soundscape is unfitting at times, with pop-sounding music bursting onto the play, suddenly and with little contribution to the atmosphere. However, the guitar and piano music pieces were integrated seamlessly into the performance and sets the mood of the scene.
The set was geometrically appealing and framed the stage well. With several storeys, the actors could explore different levels and it created a three-dimensional feel to the performance. The set also included several passageways hidden from the audience’s eye that allowed actors to get to different parts of the stage quickly, and this created the seamless transitions that were a constant throughout the play.
The fighting scenes were also smoothly and realistically carried out. From one-to-one brawls, knife fighting and even shooting a gun, the scenes were effortlessly performed and kept the audience on the edge of their seats (or their butts, since we were all seated on the ground).
I felt that the idea of an Asian culture in SRT’s version of Romeo and Juliet was a moot point, since the only scene with Asian influences was the party scene, which looked quite out of place when the partygoers wore traditional Thai-looking clothing but danced to pop music. Other than this scene, there were no other references to a Singaporean or Asian culture, and I initially thought that the play was just a generically modernised version of Romeo and Juliet, and not a modernised Asian or Singaporean version.
I also thought that there was too much emphasis placed on the sexual relationship between Romeo and Juliet. There were copious amount of affectionate display. It does perhaps show the passion between the two lovers and also hints towards infatuation and sexual desire instead of a more mature form of love between the two. However, it seemed that the kissing scenes were gratuitous for they hardly nudged the development of the play forward.
I think that watching this performance of Romeo and Juliet might not be suitable for those who did not know the story of Romeo and Juliet. The lines were delivered in Shakespearean language and might pose difficulty for those unfamiliar with such language. As the play was modernise, this production might not provide a sense of how Shakespearean plays are typically staged.
However, since I’ve read the play before, I could understand it to a certain extent. Even if the length of the play was a little long, I think that it was an interesting experience as this was my first time watching a full play, much less a Shakespearean one.
In conclusion, I feel that this production does not fully balance the original Shakespearean text with a modern Asian culture. However, it redeemed itself a little with the attractive stage setting as well as the realistic fighting scenes. Overall, I felt that it was a mediocre performance that, to me, was just a pleasant experience as a non-theatregoer.