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Schoolyard Star Crossed Lovers

  14-year-old me could have never imagined that I would be playing Juliet in a production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare. Okay,...

A close up on Amber-Mai Feeley and Holly Bramble holding hands

 

14-year-old me could have never imagined that I would be playing Juliet in a production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare. Okay, maybe she could – but it was never going to happen; most community theatre companies are not regularly performing Shakespearean plays, usually opting for more contemporary plays with easier-to-understand language that is more appealing to younger audiences. So, you can imagine my excitement when Henry Lawson Theatre Inc. (housed at the Henry Lawson Sports Club in Werrington County) advertised auditions for an upcoming production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. And you can imagine my absolute elatement when I received the call from the director that I had been successful in receiving the role of Juliet?

 

Even more exciting than being chosen to play Juliet is director Nicole Madden’s vision for the show. Producing a play that has been performed for over 400 years is a daunting proposition. And it certainly begs the question; why perform Shakespeare in 2022? Why not produce new works that address the issues of today? Many before me have discussed the merit in performing Shakespeare contemporarily and the universal themes that are present in his plays. However, I think there is also something special about taking such an iconic play and dragging it into the 21st century – and that is exactly what this production aims to do. Nicole’s fresh take on the play keeps the beautiful original language but experiments with the setting to appeal to a wider audience.

 

The ‘fair Verona’ from the prologue has been reimagined as St Verona’s, a fictional private school in contemporary Australia. ‘Prince’ is the school principal, at her wit’s end trying to wrangle the Capulet and Montague cliques, who tussle in the school playground. The new setting really emphasises the youth of the characters, heightening the tragedy of their deaths when they occur. It really drives home the banality of a feud that takes the lives of teenagers. 

 

Beyond just the aesthetics of the production, the traditional chorus has also been replaced. Instead, the all-knowing ‘Tattle Maiden’ (drawing inspiration from Gossip Girl of XOXO fame) runs the school, spreading gossip about the main players. Tattle Maiden’s meddling heightens the miscommunication that leads to the play’s tragic end. Her posts (recorded as audio and displayed as projections during the play) drive the action, causing parties to be crashed and deadly brawls to break out. 

 

I think the best change, though, is the casting; a number of roles that are traditionally played by men are being played by women. Benvolio and Tybalt, two very interesting and complex characters are brought to life by two spectacular women who do an amazing job of making these iconic characters their own. The stand-off between Tybalt and Mercutio is richer for the newly injected gender difference, and it has made me audibly gasp on more than one occasion watching. 

Amber-Mai Feeley and Holly Bramble playing Romeo and Juliet intimately facing each other

Audiences with a keen eye will notice that Romeo is also played by a woman: the amazing Amber-Mai Feeley. When Amber was cast as Romeo, it was important to us, as a cast and as a production, that her casting meant something. So, we’ve put in a lot of work figuring out exactly how Romeo being a girl changes things. Obviously, we had to go through our script and swap out “he” for “she” and “gentleman” for “lady”, but the changes go deeper than that. When Romeo says “I do love a woman”, this takes on a whole new meaning – not merely a declaration of love, but a coming out. Juliet’s arranged marriage to Paris becomes much more traumatic, not simply a different man, but a man instead of a woman. Romeo and Juliet’s love is not forbidden only because of the feud, but also because of the intense religious pressure from their families. It is a simple change, but it is a change that enriches the storytelling and makes it so much more impactful.

 

I am beyond proud to be a part of this production and to share this fresh take on a well-known classic. It is such an honour to take on such an incredible role, and to do so in such a modern production is even more incredible. The show opens on Friday the 15th of July and runs for three weekends at the Henry Lawson Theatre in Werrington County

 

You can purchase tickets for $20 online or by calling 4905 5258.

Amber-Mai Feeley and Holly Bramble playing Romeo and Juliet looking upwards into the camera

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Hamilton Sydney- You’ll want to be in the room where it happens!

Hamilton Sydney- You’ll want to be in the room where it happens! Editor Katelyn Brunner did not throw away her shot to see a world-renowned musical....

Hamilton Sydney- You’ll want to be in the room where it happens!

Editor Katelyn Brunner did not throw away her shot to see a world-renowned musical.
The Sydney Lyric Theatre with Hamilton billboard on the building – Tia Magnusson

The world-renowned musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda has made its way to Sydney and it does not disappoint. The musical follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of The United States of America who often gets forgotten in history. It follows the ups and downs in his lifetime, detailing his important role in the development of Americas Constitution and Financial Systems.

The Hamilton Australia Website describes it as having “… a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway,”, which is considered unusual for 21st century musical theatre.

 

Hamilton Sydney Cast performing on stage

Daniel Bond

 

As a theatre nerd, jumped at the opportunity to see this show at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. I saw the show pre-lockdown on June 12th, 2021, when it was the only production of Hamilton running in the world at the time. Even then, there were strict Covid-19 protective measures. Masks were required and were handed out at the door. Vaccinations were not widely available, so they were not required at the time (but are required now). QR check-in was also required.

 

The Lyric Theatre and its socially distanced waiting area.

Tia Magnusson

 

The set and the stage

 

Walking into the theatre, the stage set was almost identical to the original Broadway production. The production used a rotating stage which was highly effective for choreography and blocking. The set was also heavily adorned in shades of brown, allowing the set to essentially become whatever the actors needed it to be. It was multi-level, allowing for much of the cast to be on stage all of the time.

 

Lighting was also an important aspect of the show, as the colour and use of spotlight often reflected the mood of the scene. The lighting replaced the need for a complicated set.

 

I will note that if you suffer from photosensitivity or epilepsy, consult your doctor before seeing the show as there are many flashing/strobe lights throughout the production.

 

The costumes

 

The costumes were also identical to the Broadway production. The lead roles were adorned in simplistic, historical costumes of varying colours while the ensemble had similar but simpler garments in shades of brown and beige.

 

The cast

 

The Cast of Hamilton Australia

National Indigenous Times – Darby Ingram

 

The cast is a collection of multi-talented and culturally diverse individuals. One look at the website and you’ll find out that Hamilton is “…is the story of America then, told by America now.”.

 

Jason Arrow’s interpretation of Alexander Hamilton was fantastic. It was close to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance but with hints of Arrows own flair. Arrows duality of charisma and vulnerability on stage makes him an excellent leading man. He somehow blends the American and Australian accent, which makes the show more accessible to an Australian Audience. I have no doubt that Manuel-Miranda would be incredibly proud.

 

Aaron Burr is Hamilton’s opposition throughout the show; they are best friend and worst enemies. I found Lyndon Watts performance as Aaron Burr was stealing attention throughout the show (In a good way). There is something so magical about Watts’s performance; his interpretation of Aaron Burr transformed the character into a narrator of the musical. Watts was my favourite performer of the show.

 

Arrow and Watts complement each other nicely throughout the show, as Arrows joy and determination (as Hamilton) is met with Watts’s anger and desperation (as Burr).

 

Eliza Hamilton is Alexanders Wife and the daughter of American General, Philip Schuyler. Chloé Zuel tugged at my heartstrings as Eliza. There was something so joyful about her that makes her incredible to watch. She was joined by Akina Edmonds as Angelica Schuyler. Edmonds brought both strength and gentleness to Angelica, truly embodying protective-big-sister energy. The third Schuyler sister, Peggy, is played by Elandrah Eramiha. She has an impressive duality about her as she transforms from bubbly Peggy in the first act to Sultry Maria Reynolds in the second act. You would have never known they were the same person if you didn’t look in the program.

 

Ermaiha wasn’t the only cast member who doubled up on roles with ease and grace. Shaka Cook played Hercules Mullgian/James Maddison, Victory Ndukwe played Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson and Marty Alix played John Laurens/Philip Hamilton. Like Ermaiha, you would have never known that they were separate people unless you looked at the cast list in the program; that is how versatile their performances were.

 

Matu Ngaropo played George Washington. He was a pivotal character to Hamilton’s storytelling and Ngaropo excelled in this role. Brent Hill played King George and even though his time on stage was limited, he made every moment memorable.

 

The ensemble members were a collective of talented individuals who were performing on-stage for the whole 2 and ½ hours of the show. Their strength and athleticism amaze me, and the show would truly be incomplete without them. They execute complicated, Broadway level choreography with ease. I would compare the energy needed for this to jogging for 3 hours straight. They were essential part of the show as they represented multiple different cohorts of people- ball attendees, American/British soldiers, towns people, the list goes on!

 

And I cannot forget the orchestra and the tech crew. They were essential to the running of the show and were the reason the show was running each night. If you didn’t notice them, then that means they’d done their job correctly. Their work behind the scenes made sure that the performances were the best it could possibly be. And let me tell you- they were fantastic!

 

Overall rating: 10/10

 

Get tickets if you can because this is an experience you won’t want to miss. The bone chilling harmonies, the fast-paced rapping and non-stop singing and dancing will leave you wanting more. The only negative aspect I can think of is the long running time (so make sure to go to the bathroom beforehand!).

 

Just make sure to bring your mask, your proof of vaccination and your tissues (because you will cry). It is incredible to see such a diverse cast on stage. You will marvel at the storytelling and the talent you’ll see on stage. Your only struggle might be getting to the production (either by train, bus or light rail) so make sure you’ve topped up your opal card.

 

 

Cast for the 12/6/2021 performance can be found here

Tickets are available until February 27th here