Victorian Drama League award-winning director, Emma Sproule, and her company, Dionysus Theatre, bring Williams Shakespeare’s archetypal young lovers to life, in Romeo and Juliet.

Read on as Sproule shares her love of Shakespeare – it really is infectious!

I was initially torn between directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo & Juliet and found myself re-watching one of the film interpretations of the latter in the process. Emotional involvement was high and I found myself hoping that this time the message would arrive, that Juliet would wake up in time, and that Friar Lawrence’s plan would finally work – anything to avoid the tragic outcome. But I also knew that wouldn’t happen and it made me consider how in this age of ‘spoiler alert’ etiquette, particularly in social media, how many modern stories are considered ruined and no longer worth watching if we know the ending before we start. And yet 400 years later ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is still considered the greatest love story of all time, people continue to flock to it and even if somehow you arrive a performance not knowing its tragic outcome, you soon learn it in the opening prologue! You cannot sit down to this story without knowing how it’s going to end and yet we continue to be drawn to it, it remains timeless and we are always affected by the outcome without the element of surprise. Once my tears had dried I knew that I wanted to explore that element of this play.

Given that Romeo & Juliet is considered the greatest love story, love is definitely the most dominant theme! However, in addition to the power and forcefulness of Romeo & Juliet’s love for one another, I‘ve also enjoyed exploring how love is shown through other characters and relationships; for example, the scene where the Montagues seek Benvolio’s counsel about their son would be familiar to many parents, particularly to those with teenagers. And Lady Montague loves Romeo so much that after he’s banished she loses the will to live. I also chose to heighten the ‘posse’ that Romeo kicks around with to show that even after Mercutio’s death, he has no end of support and even when banished, is never abandoned whereas Juliet, in a house surrounded by family and servants, is both isolated and alone. Even her Nurse urges her to forget Romeo when the situation appears hopeless.

‘Romeo & Juliet’ also explores beautifully how love can so easily turn to passion and this fuels hate just as readily as love. That these people are so ready to fight and to die for what they love drives the play and lures any audience to them; we all imagine these extremes in our lives even if they never become our reality.

We’ve explored this with a sword motif that is also designed to signify the power of the story, the pen being mightier than the sword and all…

I am definitely not a traditionalist, which is the case with virtually everything that I direct, however, it’s very important to me that any decisions I make and directions I take with a story have a strong and visible link to the story’s origins. There are many facets of this interpretation that either nod to or fully embrace its Elizabethan origins. The costumes and facets of our staging show elements of this, however, the fact that I’ve decided to weave two additional characters into the story in order to tell the story not only appears non-traditional but also potentially arrogant. Who am I to do that?! I wonder if people imagine me saying, ‘I thought Shakespeare had some good ideas but overall the play needed some work…’ Hopefully, when people come and see the piece they’ll appreciate and engage with what I’ve done; the aim has been to heighten the impact of the story, not to embellish or distract from it.

My favourite Shakespearean play constantly changes and right now I’d have to say ‘Romeo & Juliet’ because of how invested I’ve become in the characters and their inevitable path, as well as the constant appreciation of the many, many layers to this story. I will also now forever associate this play with the incredible team of people that have helped me bring this interpretation to life. I have an incredibly gifted, generous and gregarious cast and crew and every rehearsal is both hilarious and fast-paced with action, insight and improvisation a constant theme.

However, I do love Hamlet and will always come back to Midsummer. The latter because it’s just so much fun; it’s romantic and comic on so many levels. I love the three different but intersecting storylines and the potential for gender politics in the interpretation.

Students currently studying Shakespeare can be assisted by viewing this play. First, I believe we’ve created some incredibly familiar and accessible characters. Romeo and Juliet, despite the challenges they face, are only teenagers themselves and as well as love they also laugh and it’s been important to me to play up the humour and friendship elements within the text. I’m a teacher myself and when students are studying a play, especially Shakespeare that can have stigma due to what is perceived as a language barrier, it’s important that they watch it and immerse themselves in it rather than only read it. It allows them to look beyond the words to the emotions, motivations and normalcy of the characters and just how much they may actually have in common with them. I love seeing the students then develop a new appreciation for the language once they are able to appreciate the weight and artistry of what is actually being said. Plus a play is written to be performed.

If I had to describe Shakespeare and his work to someone who was yet to be acquainted, I’d say he brings us stories that are re-told and adapted from both earlier tales and history and yet his entire collection of work is so beautifully constructed and artfully presented that he is still considered to be the greatest writer that ever lived.

Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare’s work that ‘He was not for an age, but for all time’. Given this story is over four hundred years old and we are showing no signs of losing interest in it then I suggest that Jonson was right on the money. I have endeavored to explore how stories continue to draw us in and affect us as if they’re real, because in the moment of the telling, they are real. And I’ve woven two new characters into the story in order to do this; you may have one hundred more opportunities to see this play but you will only have one opportunity to see Sam and Greg tell it. So don’t miss that.

Romeo & Juliet 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 9th, 10th October 2015 8pm McClelland College Performing Arts Centre 26 Alexander Crescent Karingal, 3199 (entry off Karingal Drive) Bookings: http://www.tickethost.com.au?Event=947

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