Co-founded by Grace Maddern and Jack Wilkinson in 2015, GJ Productions are a company created to produce works that inspire and to give opportunity to emerging artists both on and off stage. With Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the musicals The Last Five Years, Heathers and a cabaret under their belt, this company have been keeping themselves busy the last 3 and bit years.
Firstly, what a venue on a warm summers evening for a spot of Shakespeare in the Park. Shaded by a foliage of gums accompanied by ambient bird sounds and a touch of a water view, the Fairfield Amphitheatre provided a splendid backdrop for the most well known love story of all time, Romeo and Juliet.
This is an uncomplicated production. It relies on the strength of the word and solid performances to shoulder the complexities. There are no ‘bells n whistles’ here. A two flat curtained structure, simple but totally adequate serves as the backdrop, with the natural setting and attributes of the amphitheatre illustrating place – a good directional choice.
As with any outdoor space the transition from dusk to darkness is always a challenge for a lighting designer (Jack Wilkinson). But with only one small noticeable ‘flicking of the switch’ it was simple yet still ambient. It did take me a while to adjust to the use of microphones, which always sound odd in Shakespeare. But hats off to sound tech Elizabeth Munro who controlled the unfortunate microphone fails at the end of act one with great calm. I nervously glanced over to the desk expecting a silent melt down but there was no fluster. Well done!
Costume design by Etherael Andy shows a great eye, with both Houses embracing unique hues and styling. The overall look and feel is classic yet youthful and look wonderful against the natural setting. There has obviously been a lot of time spent on the many fight scenes and it pays off. They are all restrained but very well-choreographed (Geoffrey Weber & Scott Jackson). Less is more as they say.
Jack Wilkinson’s direction is solid and has an obvious understanding of Shakespeare conventions and an eye for simple but effective staging. He has assembled a very solid cast. Control of the often difficult techniques are mostly well done, although annunciation and speed of delivery (mics can only do so much) was occasionally troublesome, especially on entrances.
As the star crossed lovers, Grace Maddern and Brendan Snow are nicely believable. Maddern’s Juliet is refreshingly tenacious and feisty, while Snow’s Romeo embodies a man with great resolve. Richard Mealey (Friar Lawrence) is wonderfully understated with a clear understanding and well paced delivery. Louis Reed (Mercutio) relishes the energetic role, although finding more light and shade would complete his otherwise believable characterisation; Paris (James Martin) has a juvenile love struck charm about him contrasting well against the bravado of Alexander Ryden’s Tybalt. Nurse (Elyse Batson) requires a touch more drive on entrances as I did miss some opening lines in what otherwise was an enjoyable somewhat cheeky interpretation and Geoffrey Webber’s Benvolio is believably steadfast as the Montegue’s voice of reason. Anthony Edward and Natalie McFall as the elder Capulets and Darcy Whitsed as Prince Escalus each deliver solid moments in both character and delivery.
Rounding out the cast Josh Hayes and Sarah Hunter play the minor characters. Although not an indication of the actors talents I was somewhat perplexed by a couple of the choices (actor or directional?). Hunter’s servant to the Capulet house is strangely over the top, complete with flailing arms exiting scenes and Hayes’ Apothecary is equally as odd, exiting the action with a Monty Python-esque goose step. In contrast, when playing Balthasar and Montesque these good actors revert back to a more classic style and ultimately a successful delivery.
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with GJ Productions. My attention was held from beginning to end – and that is no mean feat for a 2.5 hour, open air Shakespeare in the middle of summer!
Congratulations to all involved