Much like audiences of Shakespeare’s time, the crowds that gather in the picturesque Albury Botanic gardens each year for The Other Theatre Company’s Shakespeare in the gardens are looking to be entertained rather that educated – and although teaching Shakespeare is Director Christine Duff’s day job, this production of Romeo and Juliet will have more drama, violence and excitement than that which occurs at the football oval across the road on a Saturday afternoon in winter.
In directing this year’s Shakespeare, Duff has kept her audience in mind, and is determined to prove that Shakespeare is not just about high school English texts. Noticing her Year 10 students reacted most positively to the classic fight scenes in their Shakespeare classes, Duff has spent time developing the physicality of the play, developing realistic fight scenes with the assistance of fight coordinator Peter Uniacke to train the actors in the fine art of 17th century combat.
But the action goes beyond just what occurs on the stage and extends right out into the audience. Becoming part of the show itself, the audience will take sides, barracking for one of the protagonist families – Capulets or Montagues – and complete with flags to wave at appropriate dramatic moments, cheer on the fights, goading the actors to ever more violent actions – although be prepared to be admonished directly from the stage if things get out of hand.
This breaking of the “fourth wall” is also being used by Duff keep the audience up to date with the story to ensure nothing is missed – a technique used in Shakespeare’s time – and perfect for a modern day audience who occasionally may be distracted by the contents of their picnic baskets – and possibly wine bottles.
Duff is also using audience engagement to drive the action on stage. Duff wants her actors to feed off audience energy with direct and close involvement, facilitated by a central runway passing through the middle of the seated patrons – a certain way to keep the actors focussed on their performances, and the action up front for all to see.
And it’s not just the dramatic action that will engage the audience, Duff has incorporated music and song into the performance. Just like in the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare’s time, Duff has engaged local band The Ladybirds to play the role of the civic waits (an Elizabethan term to describe bands of public musicians) to enhance the dramatic scenes and make the experience aural as well as visual.
The traditional theatrical techniques that Duff has employed straight out of Shakespeare’s time, combined with the (mostly) youthful cast including the two school age leads, are sure to give this performance of Romeo and Juliet an authenticity that will engage the audience, and provide a terrific night out – whichever side may win the fights.
Show opens Friday March 2.