Saturday, February 1, 2014

Siren Productions, 'A Tender Thing': Defying the Stars

Romeo and Juliet are given the gift of time in Ben Power's reimagining of the Shakespeare classic but will their tragic fates remain the same? 

Jan 28-Feb 15
Project Arts Centre

My review of A Tender Thing by Ben Power coming up after the jump ...

How does it end for Shakespeare's star-cross'd lovers? A desperate Juliet convinces the world that she is dead and Romeo, by almost cosmic chance, is failed to be informed of the illusion. Finding her slumbering in her family crypt, he drinks from an apothecary's poison and lays himself to rest beside her. When she awakes, Juliet heartbrokenly drives a dagger through her heart. Ironically, their deaths, in the political reconciliation that follows, creates a world where their love would have been allowed to exist.

But Ben Power's reimagining of the tale evokes such a world, one where the star-cross'd lovers had been let live and love. It's beautifully ordinary, as Selina Cartmell's gentle staging for Siren Productions shows the tragic destiny of Romeo and Juliet close in on them, not through opposing societal forces but by chasing them to the ends of their natural lives.

Power's text is essentially a rearrangement of the original. When Romeo looks toward his bed-ridden wife, he speaks with the same wooing verse with which he once marvelled at her on a balcony. Owen Roe's Romeo has disciplined his extremes over the years, acting here in restraint as he cares for his wife, though not dissimilar to the heedless youth that could coax a dance from her.

And where once Juliet sat dutifully between youth and adulthood, Olwen Fouéré guides her to a different transition, that between motherhood and bereavement, as Lady Capulet's once ineffectual observations are lent to create a child, impressively expanding Shakespeare's universe. Fouéré unfurls a soft decline in her speech and movement, sweetly measured and saddening to watch.

It borders the banal at times but the design elements work to stimulate tension. Marc Teitler's piano arrangements pine for relief while Sinéad Wallace's lighting, like the transformation of the morning lark into the nightingale, is miraculous at points. Enshrined by an askew picture frame, Monica Frawley's neat bedroom set suggests a wrongfulness of place.

Because it does feel wrong, even cruel, for the lovers to part in this aching production. Its utter inescapability encompasses us all. But in Cartmell's tender direction, and Roe and Fouéré's beautiful performances, we are reminded that in seeing the demise of Romeo and Juliet we also witness the heights of romantic feeling, the vibrant steps of a dance, ageless and transcendent.

What did everybody else think?

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