#romeoandjuliet begins as circus – a very, very small circus, kept alive by the boundless delusions, ego and conceit of its ‘star’, Veronique (Kimberley Twiner). Her much put-upon ‘assistant’ Stephanie (Lily Fish) is also stage manager, unwilling and unconvincing performer, securely under the thumb of her boss. But when Stephanie finds a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the lost property box, rebellion is in the air… Here is a show that moves – or develops – smoothly through six stages: audience participation – safety procedure in case of fire, flood or rage - a naff, hilariously bad series of ‘circus’ acts, then to an analytical discussion of ‘devised theatre’, to a tentative performance of Romeo and Juliet and, finally to romance and lesbian love. For a show that relies so much on flawlessly executed physical comedy, it’s interesting that it changes direction via a love of words and then via the discovery of sex – that is, the realisation that you can have words and kissing and still have a show!
After the bells and whistles of a major company’s show last week, what a pleasure to see – close-up on the tiny La Mama stage – two such accomplished, highly trained clowns as Ms Twiner and Ms Fish. Director Steph Kehoe’s ‘outside eye’ has brought precision and perfect comic timing to the performances. Each of the two performers creates a character, as much by movement as by words or facial expression, that is conceived for maximum contrast and conflict with the other. In its way, this ‘clown’ show plays on the ancient conventions of the White Clown and the victim clown ‘Auguste’ – but without the traditional make-up, without the costumes – and, if there are any echoes of that tradition, they are soon subverted.
Ms Twiner’s White Clown Veronique is ‘glamorous’ in her sequinned circus bustier, train and pink tights, making wonderful use of a wide and shark-like smile. Veronique is a stressed control freak, pushy, dominating, bullying, nasty and totally without talent - but still believing that her audience simply adores her. That Ms Twiner can convey all that so clearly and make us laugh, in a horrified sort of way, means that she is very talented. (She designed the set and costumes too.)
Ms Fish, meanwhile, in a costume and headgear that says hand-me-down and gormless rather than glamorous, has possibly the most expressive face on any Melbourne stage. Solemn, serious, flustered, entreating, vulnerable, resigned, afraid, sceptical, angry, naughty, rebellious, delighted – and then quite bossy herself – and finally sensual as well. For me, one of the chief pleasures of this terrific show is simply watching Ms Fish’s face. She is totally in control of that face, which tells the audience so much – and touches our hearts as well as making us laugh.
At the show’s (happy) end, Ms Twiner told the audience that there are already only twenty-five seats left in the limited run of this show. Be quick.