Classic Love Story Gets Singaporean Twist

Romeo and Juliet will make you laugh and cry

By Clara Lock, photos courtesy of Albert Lim KS ©

Local theatre company Wild Rice updates what is said to be the greatest love story of all time, bringing a distinctively modern and Singaporean touch to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

Director Ivan Heng leads a stellar cast comprising the who’s who of local theatre in a heartfelt production.

Immediately striking is the sparseness of the play, performed on a bare concrete incline. The stark nature of the set is a metaphor for the rigidity of Verona, a city governed by wealth and status, which Heng has likened in previous interviews to Singapore.

The set calls to mind the bare bones approach of Wild Rice’s recent productions – last year’s one-man show The Weight Of Silk Of Skin, starring Heng, and the hugely popular political satire Cooling Off Day, were both performed on near-empty stages.

The vast stage allowed the actors to carve out pockets of space in busier scenes, such as the Capulet’s feast where the young lovers, played by Hansel Tan and Julie Wee, first laid eyes on each other. The stolen glances between the pair, even as Juliet danced with Paris (Dwayne Tan), were saccharine and spicy at the same time, bringing heightened anticipation to one of the play’s better-known scenes.

The duo was ardent and passionate – Wee was particularly earnest as the sheltered daughter of rich, overbearing parents. Choosing love over duty, she was fearful, but determined, bringing to life the layers of Juliet’s complex personality beyond the tragic heroine she is more commonly known as. Yet she struggled, at times, with vocal muscularity, her voice sometimes a sliver too thin to carry through the theatre.

Tan, too, was confident, both in the tender moments and the high-intensity fight scenes, which were put together by Lim Yu Beng. The fights were more choreographed than realistic, but they were beautifully choreographed at that. Part acrobatic display, part dance, part martial arts, they were set to a Hollywood-esque soundtrack and spaced out comfortably across the large space.

Special mention must also go to Neo Swee Lin as Juliet’s nurse, who elicited the most laughs from the audience. Neo, clad in the traditional Chinese costume of an oriental, buttoned-up shirt and black pants, played the matronly nurse with comic aplomb. Delivering physical pratfalls and speaking in a Singlish accent, she was perhaps the most accessible character onstage.

But above the riveting fights and the comic elements, there is no escaping the fact that Shakespeare’s story is ultimately a tragic one. Yet we can’t help rooting for the blossoming of young love, even as we know the star-crossed lovers are speeding towards their inevitable end. It is testament to the actors, and to Heng’s creative choices, that we believe in this Singaporean version of Romeo and Juliet.


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