>shakespeare's r & j by the singapore repertory theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 5 may 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: dbs arts centre
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Described by the Wall Street Journal as "the most inventive reimagining of a classic in years", the play's concept of using four boys to stage the star-crossed love story of 'Romeo and Juliet' was bold to say the least. Using a spartan stage of several platforms and half levels, the play aimed to reinvent the oft-seen tragedy through the sheer force of the manipulation of the script and the energy of the actors. In reality the two concepts worked well enough but sadly wasn't powerful enough to propel R & J beyond "merely interesting".

The female roles in R & J were performed by the four male actors with wonderful comic timing and sensitivity. At the start, the four schoolboys played the female roles with expected jock horsing around - falsettos, broken wrists and the works. As Brendon Fernandez's Juliet walked in, his refusal to don the stock "feminine" gestures succinctly highlighted the artificiality in social construction of gender roles. As an exploration into the dichotomy between our traditional paradigms of masculinity and femininity, R & J made the audience think about what it really means to be male or female - or is the distinction really all that significant in the first place.

>>'R & J will be applauded for its innovative insight into the world's most beloved Shakespearean play'

Within this inquiry into gender roles, homosexuality occupied the centerstage as Romeo and Juliet moved towards eventual coupling except now it's probably more appropriate to call the play 'Romeo and Julian'. As the male actors continued the love story amidst the soaring phallic pillar structures of the set, usual Shakespearean lines gained new perspective: "My only love sprung from my only hate" was now a reference to the love that dares not speak its name. Clever juxtaposition of movement and lines made continued reference to modern issues. Traditional notions of the play were demolished as the subversive all male arrangement made it clear that love is the same regardless of gender - "a rose by an other name will smell as sweet".

The cast was wonderful all round as they multi-tasked, playing the myriad of roles required by the script. One moment playing the maid, the next jumping into the role of the buddy thirsty for blood, the four actors were versatile to say the least and very convincing in all their diverse roles. Chua Enlai, in particular, stood out for his mischievous take on the maid - his energy was evident in a role played with so much relish.

Designed by award winning full-time-director-part-time-sets-designer Goh Boon Teck, more aplomb was expected but the sets though spartan was generally effective nevertheless. Lighting was especially emotive as it played with the dominant colours of red and white. Attention to details such as the all white uniform and the red props was commendable - the multi purpose red sash was an ingenious touch.

To subvert the world's most prized straight love story, R & J had toyed with the context of the play with great finesse. Yet paradoxically by decontextualising the play, it limited its own impact by reducing itself to merely a clever play on words, movements and imageries. For this postmodern generation waned on the alternative television fare of "Will and Grace" and "Queer as Folk"(yes, you have to get it from overseas but it is technically available), R & J will be applauded for its innovative insight into the world's most beloved Shakespearean play but to hail it as "the most inventive reimagining of a classic in years" - that might still be a stretch.