A Tender Thing: Romeo and Juliet Remixed

A Tender Thing

Powerhouse Visy Theatre

Full Circle Theatre & Brisbane Powerhouse

9th – 18th May 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


A Tender Thing

Romeo and Juliet Remixed:


It’s the story of star cross’d lovers…but not as you know it.



Another Romeo and another Juliet in a strikingly different love story.


Re-imagining the text of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, British playwright Ben Power has remixed the greatest love story ever told to create an achingly beautiful new story of two older people.


Commissioned and premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2009, and featured at the World Shakespeare Festival at Stratford in September last year, this 80 minute work for two actors is a provocative new tale of love and sacrifice.


Playing at the Visy Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse until May 18 is a beautiful take on Romeo and Juliet, which was commissioned by the RSC for its premiere in 2009. Reimagined by Ben Power (literary manager, dramaturge and playwright), yet using Shakespeare’s words, we see for the first time in Australia, this intriguing, very gentle version, which presents the star-cross’d lovers at the end of their life together. In fact it could be any couple, at the end of their life together.


The themes are ageless, universal; if you see nothing of yourself in these characters or in their relationship, you’ll recognise your parents, or your grandparents, or somebody else you know well because they are quite beautifully drawn here by the actors, if not completely settled as individuals. Don’t worry, they will be by the time you see it. The best thing that can happen between now and the rest of the season is that each actor borrows a little from the other. I’ll explain in a minute but first, I’d better tell you this:


Full Circle Theatre allowed me to see the preview, which is not something I make a habit of. As you’ve read here before, it’s understood that a preview is part of the rehearsal process; a final chance to “get things right” before the season opens. So it’s unusual to review a preview but I knew I wouldn’t get the chance to see A Tender Thing otherwise. And as far as previews go, Thursday night’s was pretty slick.



Imagine if Romeo and Juliet had lived, and enjoyed a long, happy life together?



Director, Linda Davey, and actors, Flloyd Kennedy and Michael Croome, have taken the playwright’s notion of a “re-mix” and run with it, offering insight into the stuff of long-term relationships; the bit that happens after the honeymoon. It’s tough, isn’t it? I know. And I know you know. Preach. Choir. Not gonna’ do it. Sam and I have been married for ten years (and together for almost fourteen), and I know there have been times when he’s wished he’d had an obliging apothecary just up the road and around the corner. There have been TESTING TIMES. There have been times when neither of us remembers what brought us together. Or kept us together. Or will keep us together.



There are times when we talk about things that are NOT THEATRE RELATED AND NEITHER OF US KNOW WHO WE ARE.



A Tender Thing certainly makes you think.


Freddy Komp’s thoughtful design lets us into several private spaces within the one setting; a lived-in weatherboard beach cottage, such as we anticipate seeing in a traditional staging of David Williamson’s work. Clever use of recycled timber, sand, bark and living plants in the intimate Visy Theatre lets us get close to this couple in the comfort and familiarity of their home.


An evocative soundscape and score (Scott Norris) works with moody lighting (Daniel Anderson) to highlight the twilight years of the relationship. Many memories are stirred in me – sound and images will do that – they’re simple things, from early on in my own marriage, like putting on Robbie Williams’ DVD Swing When You’re Winning to act like a sage smudge in the house when the other half is feeling down. I’m not sure the shifting, melting images thrown across the back wall made me feel the same way (in fact, they turned my thoughts to recent discussions with artists about combining live theatre and MRI images, so I was thinking, “Yeah, that could work! Let’s do it!”). In the end, as things so often do, the images become clearer and serve as a vivid reminder of the beginning.





While Kennedy’s work on the preview night came across as slightly self-indulgent, Croome’s vocals needed attention. It seems, from some recent examples we’ve been seeing around and about, that the connections between the breath and the voice, and between the voice and the body are perhaps not getting the same attention as they once were. I’ve been thinking about this lately. Are we too focused on being multi-disciplined and self-serving now, ready to forge a career in The Arts Industry and yet still not ready to take on a role? I recently saw a mature age student in a new drama course on the Sunshine Coast absolutely kill Juliet’s Gallop apace piece. It was a lusty, fiery delivery that left no doubt in our minds about the meaning of the monologue, even without (as the treatment of the text in this context demanded) her interrupting a younger student’s performance and schooling her on Juliet’s intent. Wow! We get it! Bravo!


A Tender Thing

I expected this pair, with their training and their “two lifetimes worth of experience” to give us a complete master class on delivering Shakespeare. As I mentioned, both Kennedy and Croome will have settled into their roles and taken a little of the other’s expertise on board by the time you get to see this production. And you should see it, particularly if you’re a theatre practitioner, or somebody in a relationship. There are some perfect moments, including Kennedy’s, “I have forgot why I did call thee back”, Croome’s take on the arrival of morning (this scene is so perfectly reversed we wonder why the lines were ever given to Juliet), and his unfailing, endearing support of his beloved wife, particularly in their dance together, which is perhaps the most telling, moving moment of all. Again, I thought of The Notebook. And of Up.


We know this story so well (if you don’t, you’ll certainly enjoy the show, however, a deeper knowledge of Shakespeare’s original text will enhance the experience), and this is that familiar tale, only it’s dressed in a beautifully coloured, patterned and textured new coat. It’s a brilliant cut-and-paste job by Powers, a study of ageing and enduring love; layers and layers that will get you talking (or mulling over) your own relationships and those around you. Full Circle Theatre have indeed succeeded in producing dramatically significant work that allows us to explore and return to ideas and thus see the familiar from a new perspective.




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